Rees-Zammit the hero as Wales edge past Scotland in thriller

Two tries from Welsh wing Louis Rees-Zammit prove crucial as 14-man Scotland pay the price for their indiscipline.

Louis Rees Zammit chases his own kick.
Louis Rees Zammit chases his own kick.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Updated Feb 13th 2021, 6:56 PM



THEY ARE THE men they cannot hang. After such a dismal 2020 – when they couldn’t beat anyone bar Italy or Georgia- there were wanted posters right across south Wales for crimes against rugby.

Their players were told they were too old while their coach listened to grumbles about whether he was up to the job. This Six Nations tournament began with Ireland heavy favourites to beat them in Cardiff. We all know how that ended up.

Onto Edinburgh. Scotland, chasing a first title since 1999, fresh from beating England last week, were also favoured by the bookies. At 24 minutes, Scotland 17-3 up, you wouldn’t have got a price on anything bar a home victory. Instead Wales ducked out of the noose yet again and incredibly, they are now one win away from a Triple Crown.

No one would have predicted that prior to last Sunday. Nor was anyone predicting it after last Sunday. But 15 men nearly always gets the better of 14 in rugby.

Scotland learned this the hard way. At absolutely no stage of the opening 54 minutes did they lose like losing this. Then Zander Fagerson got red-carded for colliding into Wyn Jones’ head with his shoulder and for the second week in a row, Wales were finishing the game with an extra man.

matthew-carley-shows-zander-fagerson-a-red-card Fagerson is dismissed by Matthew Carley. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

And for the second week in a row, they took advantage. Their line-out excelled, their maul marched the Scots backwards and the backs did the rest for their first and second tries, Wyn Jones getting the key touch for their third.

Their real hero, though, was flying wing, Louis Rees-Zammit, whose two tries were brilliantly finished, his winning score in the 70th minute – when he collected his own kick to touch down ahead of Stuart Hogg – nothing short of world class.

Still that was not the end of the drama. Stuart Hogg, Scotland’s outstanding captain, had already scored two tries of his own when, with the clock in the red, he collected Duhan van der Merwe’s pass just outside the Welsh 22.

But this battle-hardened Welsh team know how to avoid the hangman. We saw that in the 2019 World Cup when they squeezed into the semi-final, saw it again against Ireland in Cardiff last week and were eyewitnesses to the great escapologists once again today. Hogg, seemingly clean through, knocked on. Wales scrambled, regained possession and kicked the ball out. Victory was theirs.

Would they have won had Fagerson stayed on the field? The answer to that is a resounding no.

The bulk of this game was dominated by Scotland, so much so that by the 60-minute mark, they had spent 5 minutes and 43 seconds in the Welsh 22, precisely five more minutes than the Welsh had managed in the Scottish 22.

Yet the bottom line is that Wales kept their nerve and their discipline. 

Their problem early on was that they could not hold onto the ball, Scotland retaining possession with considerable more ease; Chris Harris troubling Owen Watkin with his lines of running.

Next came the opening try, Justin Tipuric stealing a Scotland lineout to give Dan Biggar the chance to clear. The Wales out-half didn’t do it well enough, though, posting an invitation to the Scots to counterattack.

And they did, Finn Russell slaloming his run at the Wales defence, before his subsequent offload allowed Jonny Gray to continue the charge. From the breakdown on the Welsh 22, Ali Price, the Scotland scrum half eyed the space in the Welsh backfield and delivered a clever, angled kick into it.

Darcy Graham was first to react, nipping off his wing to reach the ball ahead of Halfpenny, step around him, before scoring. 8-3 Scotland, 18 minutes played; Russell added the conversion; 10-3.

They’d stretch that lead to 14 points from their next meaningful attack, Halfpenny exposed yet again, this time by Hogg, who profited from the Wales full-back’s poor handling to collect his own kick, and cross. Russell, once more, added the conversion and you simply couldn’t imagine Wales coming back at this stage.

But they did.   

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duhan-van-der-merwe-celebrates-darcy-graham-scoring-a-try Van der Merwe and Graham celebrate. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The set-piece was the source of their first try, Wales’ maul putting a dent in the Scotland defence before the ball was spun wide, Nick Tompkins and Liam Williams making notable contributions in the build-up, Rees-Zammit applying the finishing touches. Biggar missed the conversion – Wales would miss two more – and the score was 17-8.

Nine minutes after half-time it was nearly 22-8 but Gary Graham failed to ground the ball in the Welsh end-goal area and Wayne Pivac was allowed to breathe a little easier.

That turning point was followed by another, Williams’ try, scored just two minutes later, Rees-Zammit the supplier of the final pass; the set-piece the platform from where the chance came. This time Callum Sheedy kicked the conversion and rather than trail by 14 points, Wales were suddenly just two behind.

Soon they were a man up, Fagerson carded for his illegal entry to the ruck, his shoulder hitting Jones’ head.

Off he went.

And off the Welsh went into the Scottish 22. Another line-out; another maul; another sight of the line, another try, Wyn Jones the scorer. 20-17, Wales.

Further twists were to come. Fifteen minutes were left on the clock when the Scots had a scrum in front of the Wales posts; Russell adding zip and width to their attack once the ball entered his hands, Hogg collecting that pass before he beat two defenders to score. Russell converted. Scotland had the lead again.

But not for long. Ten minutes from time, Rees-Zammit attacked down the right, Hogg came to tackle, saw the  ball sail over his head before Rees-Zammit whizzed past him to collect, sprint away and score. The Welsh have a new hero. The Scots have a broken heart.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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