Scotland 18 Wales 28: Leigh Halfpenny keeps title hopes alive
Scotland 18 Wales 28: Leigh Halfpenny overcame some early nerves to kick his side to victory over Scotland at Murrayfield
Leigh Halfpenny survived an early case of the jitters to boot Wales to victory over Scotland at Murrayfield and keep his side’s hopes of defending the Six Nations title alive.
Halfpenny uncharacteristically missed three early kicks but he responded to notch 23 points in total as Wales chalked up a third straight win of the Championship on the road.
Wales hooker Richard Hibbard scored the only try of the match in a contest dominated by the right boots of Greig Laidlaw and Halfpenny – the pint-sized duo notched a total of 13 penalties between them for a new Six Nations record.
Leading 13-12 at the break, Halfpenny’s accuracy steered his side home and took Wales level on points with leaders England, who host Italy on Sunday with a mouth-watering clash between the top two looming in Cardiff next Saturday.
Wales took the lead after just four minutes when Scotland were penalised at the scrum, Halfpenny making no mistake from the tee.
The hosts levelled however after their first foray into the Welsh half three minutes later when Ryan Jones was called up for coming into the side and Laidlaw bisected the posts.
Both Halfpenny and Stuart Hogg, rivals for the British & Irish Lions full-back position, were both involved early on – both fielding high kicks which were a feature of the half.
But it was Laidlaw who continued to keep Scotland ticking over and he doubled his tally on 13 minutes after the hosts capitalised on a fine kick to the corner by centre Matt Scott.
Dan Biggar’s big boots forward were ensuring that Wales were enjoying the majority of the territory but his drop goal effort was wayward on 14 minutes.
Soon after however, Halfpenny was given the chance to level the scores after Euan Murray was accidentally offside when Laidlaw attempted a box kick but the Welsh full-back dragged his effort wide.
Sean Lamont was the next to be pinged by referee Craig Joubert but again, Halfpenny was uncharacteristically wayward, pushing his effort to the right.
And he missed a third in succession, striking the upright before Wales struck with the first try of the game – George North scything through the Scotland defence before Hibbard burrowed his way over and numerous attempts from the visiting forwards.
Halfpenny found his accuracy to notch the conversion but Scotland, just as they did against Ireland, took their chances when they came and Laidlaw trimmed the score to 10-9 when Wales were penalised at a 27th-minute scrum.
Scotland then lost Richie Gray to a hamstring injury but they retook the lead when Laidlaw again struck a fine penalty from distance but an indiscretion from Jim Hamilton in the final minute of the first half gave Halfpenny the chance to take Wales into the break in front, one he duly accepted.
Laidlaw finally found his limit after the break and his penalty effort fell short when Toby Faletau infringed before Scotland indiscipline crept in again and Halfpenny made them pay from in front of the posts, extending Wales’ lead to 16-12 on 47 minutes.
Scotland refused to lie down however and the deficit was just one again when Wales were penalised for collapsing the maul and Laidlaw got his kicking back on track.
But again Scotland’s scrum let them down, Joubert again awarding Wales the penalty for the hosts’ engaging too early, Halfpenny slotting the kick from in front of the post.
Wales skipper Ryan Jones then went off with a shoulder injury but Sam Warburton continued his impressive performance and forced another Wales penalty – this time Kelly Brown was the culprit.
Halfpenny nervously watched his kick over on 59 minutes but just a minute later the gap was back to four when Laidlaw kicked his sixth penalty of the match after replacement Justin Tipuric came in off his feet.
Warburton was the next to concede a penalty after trying to steal the ball while off his feet but Laidlaw crucially missed to the left as Wales remained 22-18 to the good.
And Halfpenny made him pay on 68 minutes, notching his sixth penalty of the afternoon to restore Wales’ seven-point lead after Lamont was deemed to be offside.
With eight minutes remaining Halfpenny then handed Wales a seemingly unassailable lead – the Scotland front row penalised again – knocking over penalty number seven.
That stirred Scotland into action however and they began threatening the Wales try-line for the first time in the match as Tim Visser attempted to wriggle his way through the middle.
Wales’ defence was desperate and Paul James was sent to the sin bin with less than two minutes to go but Scotland could find no way through as Wales chalked up a sixth straight Six Nations victory over Scotland and will be relishing a return to Cardiff next week.