I've always highlighted this game as the most interesting matchup of the Six Nations. Scotland, for seemingly a decade now, have looked to be a side on the up, capable of world class performances if they get their game plan right. The only difference that we are beginning to notice most recently, is that Gregor Townsend had created a selection policy that can bring together all of these exciting talents hence stringing together these world class performances; a world class side, that can perform on the highest level consistently. Wales on the other hand are a team knees deep into their transition. Ahead of the Ireland game, we already tipped them as surprise winners as we knew that the Wales team we saw last year, is simply a stepping stone, ploughing them forth into their evolution. A better defence coach, a sprinkling of experienced heads and some new underrated talent could see them grind out performance after performance; not earth-shattering, but incredibly clinical... Who does that
sound like? A bit like Gatland if you ask me... That's why I find Scotland vs Wales such an exciting clash. It's the battle of invention and pragmatism, blade vs hammer, Banderas vs Winston; two sides with everything to prove with completely different philosophies.
Game Of The Year
There are still plenty of matches to be played this year; even on the international stage, we still have lots to look forward to. However, I'm pretty content in exclaiming that this will be up there for the 'Game of the Year' awards. This game had everything, scintillating tries, huge hits, exciting backs moves, moments of individual brilliance, drama and an absolute back and forth battle at the breakdown. Everything you can do, I can do better. Whether it was Louis Rees Zammit scoring two excellent, finishers tries, Duhan van der Merwe treating the Welsh backs like shuttlecocks and slamming them backwards, Williams racing down his channel to score a fantastic try or Hoggy showcasing one of the individual performances of the year; every player on the pitch put in a huge shift that both club and country can be proud of. After 40 minutes, I thought Scotland were going to start to pull away, but Wales held on and battled back and hurt Scotland on the counter; it was so back and forth! Regardless of what you think of the red card, this game had it all and I think that each set of supporters can be thoroughly proud of their nation's performance in this game.
That Red Card
As soon as Mr Matthew Carley unsheathed his scarlet card (no, no that thing), I immediately grabbed my laptop to bear witness to a million people across a million Facebook groups losing their mind. The overriding consensus is that the red card is very harsh; with the same incident happening a week prior to a far more violent extent. So, what do I think? It's a red card... Yep, definitely still a red card. The tight, buckled elbow and distinct trajectory of his shoulder to the cheek of Wyn Jones is a red card every day of the week. Stupid mitigating factors aside (such as it being a legitimate attempt to clear a man and Wyn Jones' head being raised by another player clearing out), you just can't do that and get away with it anymore! Just because O'Mahony has a track record and there weren't any mitigating factors, doesn't mean his foul play is any worse than Fagerson's foul play. It's illegal, it's dangerous, it's reckless and it's bloody lucky that the two people afflicted by these clear outs are two twenty stone props.
The Battle at 10
I was a little harsh on Biggar last week, citing him as one of the worst performers for Wales due to his aimless kicking and complete anonymity in attack. However, I'm more than happy to be proven wrong. Like Ford, Biggar has become the membrane to this Welsh side. He's so fluid in his positioning, so procedural in his barking of orders and so calm no matter the momentum, that he almost looks like he's not playing. He doesn't look desperate, he doesn't look tired and he doesn't look rattled; you want you ten to give you a platform that can encourage creativity. He provided a strategy that allowed Wales to keep changing their direction of play; sometimes they would play off of the 9, sometimes they would play off of him, sometimes they would play off of Watkin. The point of play kept changing and that's why it's so difficult to defend. Zammit kept finding so much space due to numbers getting tied up inside of him; whether it was Tompkins accidentally hitting two people due to a shallow pass and offloading it out of the tackle, or whether it was Watkin setting van der Merwe's hips allowing Zammit an extra second to go. This all came down to Biggar's satisfaction in NOT being the crucial cog. Russell on the other hand, had an equally impressive game on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Price is currently looking like a superstar, and that's because the majority of the ball isn't being played off of him, it's going to Russell no matter what. It's very easy to prepare for that, and even easier when you are seen as the appetiser to a very tasty main meal. Russell threw some deft, flat passes allowing the likes of Harris and Graham to hit the gain line at full tilt. Even when he made a mistake in the final few minutes, he tracked back and won a breakdown penalty. His array of attacking kicks had every pundit's mouth glued to the floor by half time; his ability to cut you with a thousand impressive kicks is what England dream of doing.
The Centre Battle
This one is far easier to split as I felt Harris had his best game in a Scottish jersey. Abrasive, frenetic, energised and explosive, Harris punctured the gain line every time his fingers touched the ball. He took some difficult, exploratory passes from his inside man and created chances out of nothing. Honestly, Henshaw and Harris are looking like an incredibly attractive centre partnership for this upcoming Lions tour. On the opposite side, I think the scratch pairing of Tompkins and Watkin did well to fight fire with fire. Although they slipped a lot of tackles in defence, Tompkins created a great try thanks to his ability to keep his hands free no matter the collision, and Watkin was incredibly efficient with the ball, creating when the chance was on and running hard to make his side some extra metres; I couldn't really fault them, especially when filling the boots of Williams and North from earlier in the tournament. Lang however did have a bit of an anonymous game. As a popular starting setup, Lang was cleverly employed as a double pivot, acting as an extra standoff allowing the speedsters out wide to cause some damage. He certainly got his head stuck in during some key defensive moments, but in attack he was the quietest mover in this Scottish backline (not a bad thing per say).
Finishing, Oh Boy!
The finishing on display during this match was sublime. Graham scored one of the best chip tries I've seen in a couple of seasons, Zammit scored a pair of unbelievable solo efforts, Williams cut around on the outside shoulder to take a pretty simple score and Hogg scored some outstanding moves; if you wanted some bonafide finishers on this Lions tour, you'd struggle to find better ones than what we witnessed this weekend.
Stuart Hogg - I know people hate giving MOTM to players on a losing side, but Hogg was at a whole new level this game. He kicked expertly well, made all the right decisions around the park, cut through Wales time after time and looked inhuman during some Scottish set moves.
Louis Rees Zammit - Scored two excellent tries and looks a huge threat every time he has ball in hand. He also marshal's his channel really well, hence why you see very little scores on his wing.
Chris Harris - I'll admit it, I'm falling in love with Harris! He's the perfect centre, strong in defence, creative in attack, an exciting playmaker and a pace setter.
Wyn Jones - Hard to deny how important Wyn Jones is becoming to this side. His fringe work and mobility is almost unheard of for someone his size.
Darcy Graham - Cheslin Kolbe vibes every time he touches the ball. A knack for beating the first man and a surprising amount of strength to size ratio means he's like trying to stop a speeding bullet.
Leigh Halfpenny - A bit harsh to put him here as his defensive performance was as resolute as ever. However, his sloppy, dived-on ball cost Wales a try and he gave away a few penalties for tackling infringements.