PERSPECTIVE is always in short supply when digesting and evaluating performances in international sport, especially when an individual or team has failed to meet expectations, and the aftermath of Scotland’s loss to Wales certainly elicited some extreme reactions in the bars of St Mary’s Street in Cardiff and on social media on Saturday evening.
The frustration we all felt about Scotland not managing to hit the required level is understandable and justified, but perhaps some of the rage being directed at the players and management should be internalised, because anybody who thought that this was going to be a walk in the park has only themselves to blame for swallowing such a delusional notion.
Wales may have been missing over 600 caps worth of experience due to injuries to stalwarts such as Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny, but it wasn’t a gaggle of journeyman who hurtled out of the tunnel at the Principality Stadium snorting fire and thunder at just after 2pm on Saturday afternoon.
The Welsh starting XV contained seven Lions tourists with a total of 11 Lions Test caps between them, compared to six Lions and also 11 Test caps in the Scotland line-up.
During the crucial final 15 minutes, the hosts had Jonathan Davies coming off the bench to win his 94th cap for Wales, on top of the six Lions Test caps he has accumulated during two tours of duty. At 33, he may be in the twilight of his brilliant career but that is an awful lot of experience and know-how to add to a tense situation.
Essentially, this was a contest between two evenly matched sides. The Welsh starting XV had a total of 532 caps to their name at the start of the day, with 293 more – including two Lions – to come off the bench. Against that, Scotland had 553 caps to start with and just 126 on the bench. Remember, it was in the final 15 minutes of this match that the game got away from the visitors. 15 out of the 23 players in Wales’ match-day squad had a role in last year’s championship success so they know how to win.
Nobody is claiming this is a vintage Welsh team, but they tailored their game to suit their limitations, and after their opening weekend humbling against Ireland we knew they were going to fight for every inch of that hallowed turf in front of their own people.
Scotland beat a very ordinary England at home by three points in round one of this Six Nations. It was a fair result but could easily have gone the other way if just one of several marginal refereeing calls had been different, or if England had been just a little bit more clinical with the huge amount of possession and territorial advantage they commanded throughout the game.
Seven days later, Scotland are now sitting where England were, mainly because they were out-gunned at the breakdown where Jamie Ritchie was a big miss, while Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg (their two key back-line game-shapers) had off days compared to opposite numbers Dan Biggar and Liam Williams.
That win at Murrayfield did not make Gregor Townsend’s team world-beaters, and this loss at the Principality Stadium does not make them a national disgrace, as some have suggested.
Frankly, if Scotland had put as little effort in and played as badly as is being claimed then this match would have been a 70-0 drubbing and not have hung in the balance – as it did – until the very last play.
All Scotland can do now is park the disappointment, learn the lessons required, and come back stronger against Grand Slam chasing France in two weekends’ time. They face an almighty challenge against the only team still unbeaten in the championship, who underlined their all-round class when getting the better of Ireland on Saturday evening.
“We’ve lost opening games or games in the middle of the Six Nations in the past and come back so we know we can do it,” said head coach Gregor Townsend. “We know the challenge because we’ll be playing against a team that has improved a lot since the last time we played them [Scotland won 23-27 in Paris last March], so we’ll have to be much better.
“We have two weeks to improve, although for one week we won’t have everyone in camp like the other nations [the 15 exiles in the 39-man training squad will need to return to their clubs]. I’m sure the determination will be there for everyone to improve.
“We are all aware that in any sports team there are going to be performances that aren’t up there with what we aspire to achieve,” he added. “But in defeat it is important that we all stay together, and we work out how we can get better for the following game.
“It’s never a nice moment to go in the changing room when your chances of winning the game are over, but it is part of sport. Now we have to be better for the experience.”