Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as Wales thrash Scotland
Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as Wales are emphatic 51-3 winners against Scotland at Millennium Stadium
After last weekend’s dismal display against England at Twickenham, it was easy to err on the side of caution as Wales looked to maintain their 100 per cent home record this year with a win over Scotland. Faced with the prospect of picking the cumulative score in a pre-match sweepstake – and other options already taken – 38 seemed optimistic, despite the average points in matches involving the sides in the last five years being 42. Scotland always struggle to score points, even from penalties and Wales, well, it sometimes pays to be realistic. Wales weren’t just bad at HQ, they were shocking, but if that was a bad weekend, today’s performance could be considered one of those rare vintages. The blemishes were fewer, the running far superior, the offloading sublime. It was the perfect way to bounce back for Wales. Scotland will feel hard done by, but there probably wasn’t much they could do. Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies both showed why they are one of the world’s best centre partnerships at getting through the gain line and making something of it. George North got his act together and was in the right place and held on to the ball when it mattered. Surprisingly, the set-piece looked solid despite the absence of Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones for much of the match. And then there’s Liam Williams – his man of the match award was richly deserved for an impeccable 62-minute effort. The celebrations in Cardiff tonight will be very sweet.
Hogg sees red
The Glasgow Warriors full-back may be one of Scotland’s most skilful players, key to setting up attacks and finishing them off, but he has a lot to answer for over their 51-3 defeat in Cardiff. At 10-3 in the first half, the game was still within Scotland’s grasp. There was absolutely no justification for his assault on Ospreys outside-half Dan Biggar with 23 minutes on the clock and referee Jerôme Garces was certainly correct to change the colour of his card from yellow to red. A lot has gone well for the 20-year-old since he made his try-scoring international debut: he has played in the semi-finals of the Pro12 with the Warriors, toured with the British and Irish Lions and become a mainstay of the Scotland team. Ahead of Scotland’s defeat to France last weekend, Hogg claimed to have matured as a player if not a person, and you can determine for yourself which was at play for his self-inflicted absence. It could be argued he was unlucky. Had he not connected with the face he probably would have received a yellow card or even got away unscathed. The fact remains he led with his shoulder. He really put his team-mates through the ringer for almost an hour and now risks missing the end of the season, subject to the outcome of a disciplinary hearing next week. Of the three, Biggar is probably the most forgiving, his team-mates less so and the disciplinary hearing even less.
Wales may have lost their goal kicking machine Leigh Halfpenny until the autumn internationals, but have they really lost at all? It will undoubtedly put more pressure on Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland or whoever else is at 10, but both are 80+ per cent kickers for their regions and should be able to make that transition. Almost forgotten utility back James Hook is also a regular kicker for Perpignan from full-back and kicked a late conversion today despite Priestland being on the field. What today’s match showed is that it is only the almost guaranteed points that they have lost and Halfpenny’s defensive kicking ability. Williams may have appeared throughout the championship on the wing, but today brought a break-out performance for Scarlets full-back Liam Williams who showcased his attacking ability from his favoured position. Like Halfpenny, he’s very safe under the high ball and has a solid defensive game, but Williams looked more confident going forward and his pace provided regular breaks which ignited Wales and the Millennium Stadium and were a significant part of a magnificent Wales display, something that has been lacking from full-back of late. Halfpenny is one of those players who, if fit, has been an automatic pick in the starting XV, but he needs to recover from his shoulder injury and rediscover his attacking prowess from his days as a winger to reclaim the 15 jersey. As much as his kicking ability can win matches, Williams has shown he can offer something that complements Wales’ attacking game more and that should win more matches. Halfpenny’s switch to star-studded Toulon may not give him the game time he needs and with Williams almost certain to play for the Scarlets when fit, it will certainly be another interesting selection headache for Warren Gatland come the summer.