Fifteen points from Dan Biggar’s boot was enough for Wales to claim their first Six Nations win as the veteran fly-half celebrated his 100th cap in a 20-17 win over Scotland.
Wales’ dim hope of a successful Six Nations title defense lives on after beating Scotland 20-17 at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
The boys in blue looked on course to win their opening two Six Nations matches for the first time, but Wales were only too happy to disappoint with their first win of the tournament.
A pair of first-half tries from Darcy Graham and Tomas Francis saw the two sides level on 14 points apiece at the break, and a late Finn Russell sin bin was the break Wales had need to get free.
Biggar kicked four penalties from the tee and scored a game-winning drop goal to give defending champions Wayne Pivac any glimmer of hope they could still hold on to the Six Nations.
The clash at the Principality Stadium was always expected to be a back-and-forth affair, and the teams lived up to expectations from the first whistle as Scotland took advantage of some early forays into the Welsh territory.
That possession proved futile, however, as the hosts stole the ball and proceeded to convert two penalties in quick succession, the first for a collapsed scrum and a second given to the breakdown.
Dan Biggar – who won his 100th Test cap on Saturday (97 for Wales, three for the British and Irish Lions) – stepped up from early scoring opportunities and was unerring every time.
Scotland were lucky captain Stuart Hogg hadn’t been ordered to the bin early on for an intentional forward, with referee Nic Berry appearing to miss his pat-down just when Wales threatened.
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That oversight hurt all the more after Edinburgh winger Graham was slotted into the right corner, beating opposing man Louis Rees-Zammit to the flag just in time.
Russell missed the resulting conversion but held the pendulum in favor of the guests with a pair of penalties, he and Biggar trading kicks until Scotland led 14-9 at the half-hour mark .
Wales had the last laugh of half-time, however, when another Scottish offense during the break-down gave the hosts another key view from the line.
Francis made no mistakes at close range and passed the resulting line-out maul, with Biggar unable to add the extras as the teams entered level with the whistle.
It was perhaps to be expected that the second half would prove more difficult after such a frenetic first 40 minutes, with scoring opportunities few and far between at the start.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend dispatched his ‘Bomb Squad’ just minutes after the restart, recalling the front line which started in last week’s triumph over England.
Worcester prop Rory Sutherland, a Lions tourist to South Africa last summer, lasted just around 15 minutes before an arm injury meant cowardly Pierre Schoeman was recalled from the bench, However.
A chorus of ‘Bread of Heaven’ serenaded the home side as Russell netted his fourth penalty of the afternoon in the 49th minute, but Scotland looked fearless despite Biggar returning soon after.
Both teams were guilty of indiscipline and made avoidable mistakes as the Stade de la Principality turned into a pressure cooker, where the slightest slip could have resulted in a very damaging defeat.
Winger Alex Cuthbert nearly scored what could have been the decisive try in the corner after a Biggar penalty hit the post and returned into Welsh possession.
Russell’s yellow card for a deliberate forward in the resulting phase was a happy consolation, however, and although Wales were unable to cross after kicking on touchdown, the drop Biggar’s goal put the hosts 20-17 ahead.
The Wales No10 was clearly struggling with injury but stayed on one final spot kick before Callum Sheedy came on as a 79th-minute substitute and Russell returned to the scrum.
Taine Basham was perhaps lucky to escape his own last-minute yellow card for a high kick with a prominent shoulder, leaving Wales set to claim victory with 15 men on the pitch.
And Biggar limped off the bench to celebrate a hard-earned victory with the rest of his team-mates after a war of attrition in the Welsh capital.
Both teams have a week off until they are back in Six Nations action on February 26, when Scotland are due to host France in Edinburgh.
Townsend’s men beat Les Bleus 27-23 in Paris last year and have indeed won three of their last four meetings with the Six Nations favourites.
Wales, meanwhile, travel to Twickenham hoping to keep their title defense alive, despite having not won at headquarters since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
It’s been even longer since Wales beat England on their home turf in the Six Nations, and their third-round clash comes a decade and a day after their last triumph at Twickenham in this competition.
WALES – Try: Frances. Pens: Biggar 4. Drop goals: Big gar.
SCOTLAND – Try: Graham. Pens: Russell 4.