Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland consoles Nick Tompkins of Wales. Pic: Getty Images.

Warren Gatland Admits New Low Was Too Deep To Be Saved By Stirring Wales Fightback

By Paul Jones

Warren Gatland admitted Wales’ first half performance against Scotland, when they went into the dressing room trailing 20-0, was probably the worst half of his 30-year coaching career.

But the Wales head coach ended the game feeling proud of the way his team fought back to almost pull off the greatest comeback in the history of the Six Nations.

Despite conceding another try at the start of the second half that made it 27-0, somehow Dafydd Jenkins’ side made it 27-26 by the end.

“I think I have got to apologise for the first half. It’s probably one of the worst first half performances, 40 minutes in my whole rugby career as a coach,” said Gatland.

“We were terrible, shocking. The discipline was poor, and we didn’t nail some things.

“The message at half-time was to do what we wanted to do in the first, bring some tempo, play with a bit of intensity and play some rugby, nothing flashy.

“I think some guys came off the bench and had some impact. We were so slow in the first half, things like opportunities for quick taps to get us back in the game.

“The players should be disappointed with the first half but proud for the second half. They didn’t throw in the towel in and could have won the game.

“To do what we did, be 27-0 down, other teams might have shown less character and started to think about next week. We didn’t do that.

“The team kept fighting and put themselves in a position to win. That showed real character”.

It was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002 – ending a run of 11 successive defeats – to set up a mouthwatering Murrayfield encounter against France next Saturday.

Scotland’s last win in the Welsh capital had come back in 2002 – their 2020 Six Nations win came behind closed doors in Llanelli – with tries this time coming from prop Pierre Schoeman and wing Duhan van der Merwe (two).

Russell kicked two penalties and three conversions for a dominant 27-0 lead, before Wales – abysmal in the first half – staged a remarkable fightback with James Botham, Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and Alex Mann scoring tries to narrow to within a single point, as Scotland suffered sin-bins to hooker George Turner and centre Sione Tuipulotu.

In the end, the Scots had just enough to hold on for a thoroughly unforeseen nervy finish.

Man of the match and Wales No.8 Aaron Wainwright said: “We probably wanted the game to go on for another five minutes. We left ourselves too much to do in that second half.

“Obviously we came out in the second half a bit better but left ourselves too much to do.

“We were just inaccurate and a lot of their ball came from our own errors. Then, as the scoreboard kept ticking, the belief grew.”

Scotland captain Russell admitted: “We are probably a little bit disappointed, to be honest. The win is brilliant but that second half was nowhere near where we need to be.

“In the first half, we controlled the game but in the second half the discipline was poor. When we scored that try early in the second half, we probably just got a bit complacent.

“We probably thought the game was done but there was a long way to go, especially against them at home.

“The frustrating thing is the points I was making weren’t being listened to.

“I told them to leave the ruck and they still kept on going in at the ruck and we get a yellow card for going in at the ruck too many times and for offside.

“It is something we will have to review as a team and when we are getting messages from coaches and players we have to listen to it.

“If the message is leave the ball and players are still going for it, those individuals need to look at their game and what they are doing because it is putting us under pressure.”

Both teams started brightly under the stadium’s closed roof and Scotland struck first when Russell kicked an angled 20-metre penalty, before quick lineout ball gave Tuipulotu a chance that Wales managed to defend.

Wales, though, could not stop wave after wave of attacks that led to the game’s opening try after 11 minutes.

Russell created initial space and after a strong run by wing Kyle Steyn, Scotland’s forwards took over and Schoeman crossed from close range. Russell’s conversion made it 10-0.

Scotland enjoyed scrum and lineout dominance and they controlled the opening quarter, even if Wales established promising attacking positions at times.

Russell extended Scotland’s lead with a second penalty – Wales wing Josh Adams was punished for throwing the ball away and denying Scotland a quick lineout throw – and alarm bells were beginning to ring for Gatland’s team.

Inevitably, Russell was at the heart of everything good about Scotland and he weaved his magic to devastating effect 10 minutes before half time.

Scotland set up a strong position inside the Welsh 22 and the rest was all about Russell, who ghosted into space, threw a half-dummy pass, then delivered a try on a plate for Van der Merwe.

There appeared no way back for Wales, their problems showing no sign of abating as fly-half Sam Costelow went off for a head injury assessment as Scotland led 20-0 at the interval.

It got even worse for Wales just two minutes into the second period when Van der Merwe carved them open from deep to claim a blistering solo touchdown, and Russell’s conversion put further daylight between the teams.

Costelow failed his HIA and Gatland made three half-time changes, sending on scrum-half Tomos Williams, hooker Elliot Dee and prop Keiron Assiratti, and Wales opened their account when Botham crashed over.

Turner was sin-binned for an offence in the build-up to Botham’s try and Wales struck again, this time through Dyer, with Lloyd’s conversion cutting the gap suddenly and unexpectedly to 15 points.

It was panic stations for Scotland when Tuipulotu went into the sin bin and Wales punished them immediately as Wainwright touched down for a third try in 13 minutes, with Lloyd converting.

The capacity crowd could scarcely believe what they were witnessing, but it was Williams’s influence off the bench that proved key as he injected pace and purpose into the Welsh game.

And when Mann claimed a 68th-minute try, again converted by Lloyd, the improbable dream edged closer, with Scotland looking bewildered and devoid of answers.

But they somehow held out, leaving Wales with the consolation of two bonus points in defeat.

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