Scotland just edge Wales in close, enthralling encounter

Coreen Grant scored Scotland's opening try - Scotland just about edge Wales in close, enthralling encounter
Coreen Grant scored Scotland's opening try as they just about ran out winners in Cardiff - Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Wales 18 Scotland 20

It was a shame that this ended on a missed conversion and a botched box-kick, because Scotland and Wales put on another tight and compelling contest that went to the wire.

The visitors warranted their win, a seventh in succession and a first for Scotland in Wales in 20 years, thanks to committed defence and slick back play. Matt Banahan, the former England international overseeing Scotland’s attack, has been busy. Coreen Grant and Rhona Lloyd, the starting wings, crossed early in each half, with outside centre Emma Orr threatening throughout. The kicking of Helen Nelson proved vital, too.

Wales were not as fluent, but had enough power to eke out an opportunity to draw the game. Lleucu George’s conversion attempt, however, faded wide. Then, in the 82nd minute, debutant scrum-half Sian Jones skewed her strike, sending the ball into touch and finishing the match. Ioan Cunningham , the Wales head coach, emphasised the quality and promise of Jones. Hannah Jones, his captain, admitted that “accuracy and coming away with points” from good positions would be the priorities ahead of a meeting with England at Ashton Gate next weekend.

Ben Morel, the former chief executive of the Six Nations, regarded switching the women’s tournament to its own window as his proudest legacy. Though things were predictably scruffy as players shook off rust, almost 6,000 spectators at Cardiff Arms Park would have been thoroughly satisfied. Rachel Malcolm, the Scotland skipper, saluted “a brilliant advert” for the sport.

“It’s a historic victory and so much deserved,” added her head coach, Bryan Easson. “At half-time, we talked about squeezing more out of ourselves. And we did.”

Helen Wilson on the floor
Helen Wilson helped earn her side another win and their first in Wales for 20 years - Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

These two have shared close-fought, feisty duels in recent years and there was added significance here. With both England and France already assured of their places at next year’s World Cup, the highest finishers other than them in the current Six Nations will earn a place at the global showpiece.

There was the question of impetus, too. Wales were in WXV1, the top tier of World Rugby’s inaugural autumn event, last year. They lost all three matches, yet were defiant in doing so. Scotland, meanwhile, beat South Africa, USA and Japan for a clean sweep of WXV2. Who would begin the Six Nations more convincingly?

A rumble from Sisilia Tuipulotu brought a breakdown penalty that Keira Bevan converted early on. Scotland surged back immediately. Lisa Thomson’s carry up the middle generated quick ball and tidy passing sent Grant down the left. Nelson’s touchline conversion was a pearler.

The hosts needed to absorb fearful pressure for most of the first quarter. They were indebted to Alex Callender’s turnover but Nelson won one back and kicked it for a 10-3 lead. Only a trademark cover tackle from Jaz Joyce on Grant spared Wales another setback.

Evie Gallagher and Malcolm were relentless in the Scotland back row. Up against the ropes, and playing into a stiff breeze on a clear yet brisk evening, Wales just about resisted. Another Tuipulotu charge presented Bevan with the chance to end the first half as it had begun, by slotting a straightforward penalty.

George overcooked a touch-finder early in the second period, perhaps misjudging the wind, and Scotland punished the error. Alex Stewart, on debut, and Gallagher combined to steal possession and the excellent Orr arced through, setting up Lloyd on the right. Nelson landed another fine conversion.

Wales couldn't find a way past a resolute and determined Scotland
Wales couldn't find a way past a resolute and determined Scotland - PA/David Davies

Again, Tuipulotu spurred Wales. Following a long series of line-out drives and pick-and-go carries, the 20-year-old tighthead shunted over on the phase after a tap penalty. Bevan’s conversion closed the gap to 17-13. Scotland lost both Lana Skeldon and Sarah Bonar to apparently serious injuries, but a scrum offence from Wales let the nerveless Nelson split the uprights again.

Seven points behind, with four minutes remaining, Wales rallied one last time. From an offside penalty, they went to their maul. Stewart stopped it illegally, and was sent to the sin bin. At the next attempt, following a number of television replays, it was ruled that Callender had stretched over the whitewash and dotted down. With Bevan off the field, though, George’s kick faded across the posts.

With the clock in the red, debutant Sian Jones endeavoured to hoist a box-kick for her colleagues to chase. But it was hooked out on the full, to the elation of Scotland. “This is a team full of special people,” beamed Malcolm, whose charges now host France.

In the day’s other match Les Bleus ran out 38-17 winners over Ireland. The hosts ran in five tries while rarely hitting hit top gear, but earned the bonus-point as early as the 61st minute. Tries from Aoife Wafer and Aoife Dalton were consolation for the visitors who were much-improved and will be looking for a win on Easter Sunday when they host Italy.

Match details

Wales: J Hesketh; J Joyce, H Jones, K Lake, N Metcalfe (C Cox, 54); L George, K Bevan (S Jones, 74); G Pyrs, K Jones (C Phillips, 67), S Tuipulotu (D Rose, 67), N John (G Evans, 40), A Fleming, A Butchers (K Williams, 62), A Callender, B Lewis Replacements not used: A Constable, N Terry
Scotland: M Smith (C Rollie, 76); R Lloyd, E Orr, L Thomson, C Grant; H Nelson, C Mattinson; L Bartlett (M Wright, 75), L Skeldon (E Martin, 62), C Belisle (E Clarke, 60), E Wassell, S Bonar (L McMillan, 69), R Malcolm, A Stewart, E Gallagher Replacements not used: M McDonald, S Campbell
Scoring: 3-0 Bevan penalty, 3-5 Grant try, 3-7 Nelson conversion, 3-10 Nelson penalty, 6-10 Bevan penalty, 6-15 Lloyd try, 6-17 Nelson, 11-17 Tuipulotu try, 13-17 Bevan conversion, 13-20 Nelson penalty, 18-20 Callender try
Referee: Clara Munarini (Italy)
Attendance: 5,965
Yellow card: Stewart, 78

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