Scotland edge Wales in a tense, tense encounter

Coreen Grant scored Scotland’s opening try as they almost ran out winners in Cardiff – Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Wales 18 Scotland 20

It was a shame that this ended with a missed conversion and a failed box kick, as Scotland and Wales once again put on an exciting and compelling match that went down to the wire.

The visitors deserved their win, a seventh in a row and a first for Scotland in Wales for 20 years, thanks to committed defense and fluid play. Matt Banahan, the former England international who oversaw Scotland’s attack, has been busy. Coreen Grant and Rhona Lloyd, the starting wings, crossed paths early in each half, with outside center Emma Orr threatening throughout. Helen Nelson’s kicking also proved crucial.

Wales were not as fluid but had enough strength to seize an opportunity to draw the match. However, Lleucu George’s conversion attempt went wide. Then, in the 82nd minute, debutant scrumhalf Sian Jones angled her strike, sending the ball out and ending the match. Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham highlighted Jones’ quality and promise. Hannah Jones, his captain, admitted that “accuracy and getting points” from good positions would be the priorities ahead of a meeting with England at Ashton Gate next weekend.

Ben Morel, the former Six Nations CEO, considered transferring the women’s tournament into its own window as his proudest legacy. Although things looked predictably grim as the players shook off the rust, almost 6,000 spectators at Cardiff Arms Park would have been very pleased. Rachel Malcolm, Scotland’s skipper, praised “a brilliant advertisement” for the sport.

“It’s a historic win and very deserved,” added her head coach Bryan Easson. “During halftime we talked about getting more out of ourselves. And we did that.”

Helen Wilson on the floorHelen Wilson on the floor

Helen Wilson helped her side to another win and their first in Wales for 20 years – Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

These two have shared intense, spirited duels in recent years and this added extra meaning. With both England and France already assured of their places at next year’s World Cup, the highest finishers in today’s Six Nations will earn a place in the global showpiece.

There was also the matter of impulse. Wales competed last year in WXV1, the top tier of World Rugby’s first autumn event. They lost all three matches, but were challenging. Scotland, meanwhile, defeated South Africa, the US and Japan for a clean win on WXV2. Who would start the Six Nations more convincingly?

A rumble from Sisilia Tuipulotu resulted in a break penalty which Keira Bevan converted early on. Scotland immediately fired back. Lisa Thomson’s carry through the middle set up a quick ball and a neat pass sent Grant to the left. Nelson’s touchline conversion was a gem.

The hosts had to absorb the fearsome pressure for most of the first quarter. They owed a lot to Alex Callender’s turnover, but Nelson got one back to take a 10-3 lead. Only a trademark cover tackle from Jaz Joyce on Grant saved Wales another setback.

Evie Gallagher and Malcolm were ruthless in Scotland’s back row. Against the ropes, and playing in a stiff breeze on a clear yet cool evening, Wales almost resisted. Another attack from Tuipulotu gave Bevan the chance to end the first half as it had started, with a simple penalty.

George overcooked a touch-finder early in the second period, perhaps misjudging the wind, and Scotland punished the mistake. Alex Stewart, on debut, and Gallagher combined to steal possession and the excellent Orr bent through, leaving Lloyd on the right. Nelson achieved another nice conversion.

Wales could not find a way past a determined and determined ScotlandWales could not find a way past a determined and determined Scotland

Wales could not find a way past a determined and determined Scotland – PA/David Davies

Once again Tuipulotu urged Wales on. After a long series of line-out drives and pick-and-go carries, the 20-year-old tighthead shunted to phase after a tap-in penalty. Bevan’s conversion closed the gap to 17-13. Scotland lost both Lana Skeldon and Sarah Bonar to apparently serious injuries, but a Welsh scrum attack saw the nerveless Nelson split the uprights again.

Trailing by seven points and with four minutes to go, Wales rallied for the final time. After an offside penalty they went to their maul. Stewart stopped it illegally and was sent to the sin bin. On the next attempt, after a number of televised replays, Callender was judged to have stretched over the whitewash and dotted down. But with Bevan off the field, George’s kick disappeared over the posts.

With the clock in red, debutant Sian Jones tried to hoist a box kick for her colleagues to chase down. But it was made full use of, much to the delight of Scotland. “This is a team full of special people,” beamed Malcolm, whose charge now houses France.

In the other match of the day, Les Bleus ran out 38-17 winners over Ireland. The hosts scored five tries while rarely hitting 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 have improved greatly 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 Substitutions not used : A cop, 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 Substitutions not used : M McDonald, S Campbell
To score: 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)
Number of attendees: 5,965
Yellow card: Stewart, 78

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