EDINBURGH – Wales are still on track for a Six Nations Grand Slam after they beat Scotland 18-11 at Murrayfield on Saturday with coach Warren Gatland admitting they are just a week away from their “dream”.
First-half tries by winger Josh Adams and centre Jonathan Davies helped Wales absorb a fierce fightback by an injury-battered Scotland to set up a potential tournament clincher against reigning champions Ireland in Cardiff next weekend.
After a week of turmoil in Welsh rugby, with an on-off proposed merger between the Ospreys and the Scarlets, Warren Gatland’s side stretched their record winning run to 13 Test matches with a clinical first-half display and a backs to the wall second-half defensive effort.
“When you look back on a Grand Slam there is always one game you think was close and that was probably today. We have got a dream at the moment and we will start planning for next week,” said Gatland.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend took heart from a battling second-half performance after trailing 15-6 at the break.
“There is partly frustration but a lot of pride, we gave a true picture of what we are capable of,” he said.
Wales went into the contest without a first-half try in this year’s championship but showed early intent, zipping the ball out wide to Adams, whose chip up the right wing was covered by Finn Russell.
It was Scotland, prompted by their razor-sharp fly-half, who temporarily seized the attacking initiative thereafter and Russell kicked them into a tenth-minute lead.
Not that the home side remained in the ascendancy for long. Running through the phases, Wales stretched their defence to breaking point three minutes later, Worcester wing Adams skipping past fullback Blair Kinghorn on the left before touching down behind the posts for his third try in as many matches.
Gareth Anscombe’s conversion made it 7-3 to the visitors and, though Russell’s second success at goal fleetingly pegged the deficit, Wales’ New Zealand born fly-half nailed his first penalty after 23 minutes to give his side a 10-6 advantage.
The Scots had been obliged to contend with considerable disruption to their personnel, flanker Jamie Ritchie leaving the field with a head injury after eight minutes, to be replaced by Hamish Watson, who lasted just five minutes before departing with a blood injury.
The Scots also lost winger Tommy Seymour to a shoulder injury before Wales struck for a second time after 29 minutes.
This time Gatland’s men patiently cranked through 23 phases before centre Jonathan Davies cut through the defensive line to score. Anscombe was off target with the conversion but Wales led 15-6 at the break.
Replacement outside-half Adam Hastings was forced to stand in for the injured Kinghorn at full back and made a tackle his father Gavin, a Scottish legend in the number 15 shirt, would have been proud of to deny Adams a score.
Wales prop Tomas Francis performed heroics in holding up the ball beyond the try-line to deny lock Grant Gilchrist but the Scottish pressure finally told after 57 minutes.
Taking a deft inside pass from Russell, replacement winger Byron McGuigan cut through the Welsh defence with a diagonal run and Hastings fed the ball on for Graham to score in the right corner.
Russell was off target with the conversion but Scotland were back in touch at 11-15.
Graham departed with a hand injury soon after, Greig Laidlaw coming on at scrumhalf and Ali Price having to shift to the left wing with the number nine shirt on his back.
Despite all of the changes, Scotland upped the pressure in the final quarter but without closing the four-point gap.
Indeed, in the final minute, Wales broke out on the counter-attack and Anscombe landed a penalty to seal the victory and move Gatland’s side within one step of the Grand Slam.