Comment: November test in Cardiff as flat as the beer

Comment: November test in Cardiff as flat as the beer

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Some amount of Joneses have played pivotal parts in Wales dominance over Scotland in Cardiff over the last 16 years, a run of home victories that now stretches to 10 following Saturdays latest instalment, a 21-10 victory for Warren Gatlands side.

Theres Alun Wyn Jones, the great leader of the current team, and Ryan Jones, a leader of one that went before. There was Stephen Jones and his unerring boot and Duncan and Adam Jones and their magnificent mops. To the list of Joneses who have helped Wales establish all this success over the Scots, we can add another.

Former Scotland scrum-half Andy Nicol on BBC One: “Both Welsh tries came from them putting it wide and asking questions of the defence. Scotland were going so narrow and so direct, that it was easy for the Wales defence just to smother Scotland in attack. So theyve got to get more width against the Fijians next week, and get more clinical – Wales had two chances and scored two tries.”

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For Huw Jones, the Scotland centre, there is no hiding place. As much as his attacking brilliance has helped win games at international level, his defensive frailties contributed massively to the losing of one on Saturday.

The second half “was much better” according to the head coach, but the visitors had two further tries ruled out by the television match official, when Jonny Grays double movement ended short of the line, and Peter Horne was adjudged not to have grounded the ball.

In failing dismally to deal with George North in the first half and Jonathan Davies in the second, Jones missed tackles cost Scotland 12 points in a game they would go on to lose by 11.

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Saturday was another tortuous day for Scotland in Cardiff. It was angst-ridden, but in a different way to the Six Nations slaughter in February.

“He started to open up holes, got on the ball a lot more, being much more positive, and we played most of the game in their 22 in that second half. Your half-backs have to be playing well for that to happen.”

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It was a game they owned in the second half, a game where they passed up numerous kickable penalties in order to go for touch in the hope of getting five or seven points instead of three.

“Its a big step up for everyone,” Townsend said. “Its not so much the physical side of it, but the way Wales defend is a big step up from Pro14, and the occasion, the mental side of the game.

Understandable, but ill-fated. Wales defence was animalistic. Had Jonny Gray climbed aboard a combine harvester and driven it straight at the home forwards, theyd have found some way of stopping him.

Gregor Townsend singles out Huw Jones for missed tackles in Wales defeat

They made double the number of tackles the Scots made and most of them came in the second 40 when the visitors virtually set up camp in their 22. Ross Moriarty made 18 tackles. Dan Lydiate made 21.

“Its great Adam had those 80 minutes, and very positive to see how he played in the second half, he got more and more into the game, with a couple of cracking kicks behind the defence.

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Of the eight-man Welsh pack, six of them ended up in double figures for tackles made. In Scotlands pack, that number was just two.

Scotland will return home to Murrayfield next week for the first of three more autumn Tests, starting against Fiji, who Townsend rates as “the best team in the world off turnover ball”.

Amid this possession mountain, Scotland went close numerous times. Gray was an inch away but was done for a double movement as he tried to work the ball to the try-line. Pete Horne, after terrific ingenuity from his brother George, looked to have cracked the Welsh defence, but the TMO ruled otherwise.

“We have to be accurate, and learn from things today – things we did well that we have to repeat, things that didnt go well that we have to figure out how to get better at,” he added.

Those were the stand-out chances, but not the only chances. Scotland were repelled by superb defence, yes, but they didnt do themselves many favours either.

This was the biggest game of Adam Hastings young life and he experienced how quick and how brutal life is at the top level, especially in the intensity of a Saturday in Cardiff.

The match stats show that, following that rocky start, Townsend is right, the Scots dominated possession and territory, with 60 per cent and 64 per cent respectively, but they had little enough to show for all their efforts. The Scots made just 86 tackles compared to 162 from the men in red but only rarely did the visitors threaten the Welsh line. The coach blamed a lack of accuracy with the ball in hand.

The fly-half kicked too much ball away and missed the occasional overlap, but he has to learn somewhere, somehow. He has talent, but that talent needs time to develop. If Cardiff doesnt crush him, itll make him stronger.

These were errors that were big mistakes in the game. He is a player who works really hard in training. I thought he attacked well but if you are defending at this level you have to put your tackles in. Especially when you have guys who are world class attackers so Huw will put the work in and if he gets the opportunity again he will put these tackles in.

That second half saw huge performances from Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson in the Scotland back row, but the damage had been done by then. Two missed tackles, two tries. There was no coming back from it.

The midfield was, until recently, deemed a land of plenty for Gregor Townsend, a position where his only concern was who to pick among his myriad options. Thats not so much the case now.

There has always been issues surrounding Jones defence, but they were camouflaged by the strength of his attack. And now? Getting exposed so badly, and less than a year out from a World Cup, will have come as a shock to the system for the Scotland management. For all his attacking nous, can Jones, a shoo-in for selection until now, be trusted in defence as Scotland head into a momentous season?

Duncan Taylor, a certainty if he could ever catch a break from the rugby gods, is not expected back until June after rupturing his anterior and posterior crucial ligaments. Mark Bennett is also injured.

We did not start with the energy and accuracy that is required in a game like this, the Scotland coach insisted, although skipper Stuart McInally was at a loss to explain exactly why the visitors were so slow out the blocks.

Alex Dunbar is struggling to find his best stuff. Chris Harris had his own Cardiff horror-show earlier this year. Matt Scott is going well and Horne is still bang there, but with Jones revealing another side to his game and Taylor struggling to make Japan, this is not the area of strength it once was.

Mr Kitts second decision looked a lot less sturdy. What did coach Gregor Townsend make of Peter Hornes late effort when he got on to the end of wee brother Georges neat little dink over the advancing Welsh defenders?

The remaining games of the autumn will be instructive. Finn Russell will return either next week against Fiji or the following weekend against South Africa and everything should look better. Itll look better still whenever Stuart Hogg returns.

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Townsend has cause for optimism going forward, but you could tell that Saturday hurt him. This was a chance to answer Gatland and his barbs after the February collapse, but it was a chance wasted.

There was enough fire, fury and farce to make it all feel authentic. Scotland gave plenty to the contest but paid a heavy price for two defensive howlers from Huw Jones and a moment of rare calamity nine minutes from the end when Peter Horne, Joness replacement, managed to drop the ball as a score not only beckoned but hollered on the back of a lovely little jabbed kick…

Rugby hero Doddie Weir is the king of Cardiff

The day threw up images of Jones missing those tackles, but the abiding memory for many will be the scenes before a ball was kicked. This was a game to honour Doddie Weir and the big man was a colossus.

He was on the pitch beforehand and back on the pitch afterwards. He spoke with class and humour. Surrounded by his family and cheered to the rafters by more than 60,000 supporters from both countries, he once again reminded us what real bravery is all about.

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Its not about about tackle counts or ruck clearances, or having the nerve to land a late penalty to win a game. The way the big fella has faced up to his disease with an unbreakable smile on his face has awed the masses. Wales won the match, but Doddie Weir won every heart and soul in the place.

Some will be critical of the stand-offs number of kicks and chips in the first half, as giving away possession, but, in contrast to his opposite number Gareth Anscombe, he had so little ball on the front foot that he lacked many options. This was due to the speed of Wales defensive line and the suffocating nature of their contact work – always likely to be the case with two of the best jacklers, Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate, selected in the home back row. The Welsh also got away with murder, lying over and under the ball and ball carriers whenever Scotland were brought to deck, French referee Mathieu Reynal unconcerned, and that slowed the Scottish attack from the first minute to the last.

The flanker missed most of the 2016/17 season with knee trouble, before a bicep injury suffered in December 2017 ruled him out for five months.

The one moment Scotland breached their line was a well controlled lineout maul that ended with skipper Stuart McInally showing his fine skills, spotting a gap as it broke up close to the home line to power through tacklers and over. That reeled Wales back to a 14-10 lead at half-time, George North having burst Huw Jones tackle to open the scoring after an early try was rightly disallowed for a foot in touch, but Wales stopped that tactic in the second half and duly grabbed their second try from Davies, who dropped Huw Jones with a trademark fend after a fine attacking move off a lineout early in the second half.

“It is always nice to be called up for Wales,” the 30-year-old said. “It was nice to be wearing the shirt again.”

But what it showed was the value of players like Russell and Hogg, the former missing due to the game being played outside the Test window and he now playing in France, and the latter through injury. There were others missing too, such as Sean Maitland, Greig Laidlaw, Richie Gray and John Barclay, so this was this team’s first Test together, but that duo bring a world-class level of ambition and pace, in thought and deed, and what Scotland have done in recent years is learn how to play off their breaks and turn chances into tries.

Before this season Lydiate had played only 36 matches in four seasons for Ospreys who he joined from Racing 92.

Scotlands best chances came from forward drives – Jonny Gray has the ball on the line in the first half but the referee, after consulting his TMO, deemed the Glasgow lock had been held in the tackle, and a late score by Peter Horne off his brother Georges delicate chip went to the TMO, only for replays to show the ball had just slipped from his grasp before being grounded. That could have made for a more interesting finale, but, in truth, Wales always seemed comfortable.

In his absence Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, James Davies and Ross Moriarty impressed as back-row options for Wales.

Lydiate battled back to be involved in the 2017 autumn series when he captained Wales in the victory over Georgia and was a replacement in the win over South Africa.

However, he was then ruled out for five months with a bicep injury suffered in an Ospreys victory over Dragons in December 2017 and missed the remainder of the season.

Hastings will learn and grow and could become the perfect rival to Russell in time, but for now we can be glad that Russell will return next week as Scotland seek to rediscover their attacking spark and finish against Fiji back at BT Murrayfield.

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Lydiate feels fortunate to have returned to the fold and says his injury issues make the experience even more special.

Scots have trudged home from Cardiff after many a disappointing Test match, but as competitive as Gregor Townsends team were this afternoon the absence of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg loomed large over the performance.

“One day you are probably not getting picked because you are not playing well enough, you are injured or you are too old.

“Nobody wants to be injured but especially in the back-row you are going to pick up bumps and bruises.

“I dont want to talk about luck because I won my 63rd cap against Scotland and I am privileged to get that many.

“We are privileged to do the job we do and its gutting when we get injured, because you are missing out on getting another cap.

“It just drives you when you are rehabbing, because the goal is to get back to the highest level you can play until you are not good enough, too old or your time is up.”

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Both Lydiate and scrum-half Gareth Davies believe Wales will need to step things up when they face Australia next week, seeking a first win over the Wallabies in 10 years.

The 21-10 victory over Scotland at the Principality Stadium meant that Wales launched an autumn series with a win for the first time since 2002, when they beat Romania in Wrexham.

“It is a big thing,” Davies said. “We normally play a southern hemisphere team first-up after they have finished the Rugby Championship.

“They have been playing together for months and we normally come in cold. It (the Scotland game) was not the prettiest of games, but there is plenty to work on and I am sure we will be better next week.

“We have to train well and go into the game firing. Weve had a tough couple of weeks training and we have a game under our belts now, so we wont have any excuses.”

“They have some X-factor players you have to give special attention to because if you dont they will cut you to bits.”

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