By Philip James
Scotland 18 – 28 Wales
Leigh Halfpenny kicked 23 points as Wales triumphed at Murrayfield, winning their fifth consecutive RBS Six Nations away match.
Despite missing three penalties in the first half, the Cardiff Blues winger-come-fullback still made seven and kicked a conversion.
Both teams made changes from the last round of matches with Scotland interim coach Scott Johnson bringing in fly-half Duncan Weir and prop Euan Murray.
Wales made three changes, with Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones taking over from Justin Tipuric and Andrew Coombs respectively while Paul James played loose-head prop in place of the injured Gethin Jenkins.
Fittingly for a match featuring the two most successful kickers of the championships so far, Halfpenny and Greig Laidlaw, this was a tale of penalties and the boot.
The reliable Laidlaw kicked six points to put Scotland in front eight minutes after Halfpenny had given Wales a sixth minute lead.
In the infamous Murrayfield wind, Halfpenny was kicking to the more difficult end, and missed his next three attempts, with the third striking the post.
But it was directly from that miss that Wales scored the games’ only try; from the Scottish clearance the ball was soon back in their own half and a superb George North run took Wales to the try line.
Though North missed the off-load opportunity, Wales retained the ball and strong, confident running and handling in a series of pick and drives allowed Richard Hibbard to drive over for the score.
Halfpenny put his misses behind him to convert the try putting Wales 10-6 up.
As against Ireland two weeks ago, Scotland had little possession and territory but kept picking up penalties in the Wales half and two kicks from Laidlow put Scotland back in front with two minutes left in the half.
Despite good defence from both teams, there were also numerous errors and silly penalties and Scotland’s Jim Hamilton continued this, needlessly going offside right in front of his own posts with seconds to go in the first half.
Halfpenny made no mistake this time making it 13-12 at the half.
As the teams changed ends, so did the fortunes of the kickers.
Six minutes into the second half Halfpenny extended the lead to four while two minutes later Laidlaw, perfect in the first half, missed for the first time.
The penalties were flowing thick and fast and by 60 minutes the sides had exchanged six points apiece to make it 22 – 18.
But the Welsh, who had been dominating in the scrum and with ball in hand, were forcing mistakes and turnovers deep in Scottish territory while Scotland were restricted to long distance kicks.
Despite the Welsh pressure, Laidlaw had a kick to make it a one-point game with 17 minutes remaining, but the Edinburgh player missed his second kick of the match.
Determined not to go the same way as Ireland, Wales stepped up the offensive and good ball-in-hand running took them deep into Scottish territory, drawing an advantage and then a second easier penalty.
Halfpenny duly scored and four minutes later Wales destroyed the Scottish scrum allowing the fullback to stretch the lead to ten.
The last five minutes saw Scotland’s best (and only) chance of a try as they were camped on the 5-metre line but the stout Welsh defence was enough to keep out the fairly slow and predictable Scottish drives.
It was an extremely scrappy game which Jonathan Davies described as a being constant stream of penalties occasionally broken up by some decent rugby.
However Wales will be pleased not only with the win, but also Halfpenny’s recovery from a difficult first half, and Warburton’s return to form as he won Man of the Match with 13 tackles and three turnovers.
Halfpenny and Warburton’s performances will do their Lions tour chances no harm, whilst try-scorer Hibbard went some way to supporting his coach’s claim this week that the hooker is in with a shout to be on this summer’s tour to Australia.