The 2018 Six Nations got under way in thrilling fashion on Saturday night as Wales ripped up the pre-tournament script as they sauntered to a four-try romp against stunned Scotland.
Scrum-half Gareth Davies bookmarked a scintillating start to the game in Cardiff with an interception try, while Leigh Halfpenny, who was flawless with the boot (four conversions and two penalties), crossed for a brace, youngster Stef Evans then going over for a bonus-point score.
For Wales, pre-tournament fears of a youthful and injury-ravaged squad struggling to cope and Scottish hype following a year of progress were wiped away.
Here, we look at four talking points from the game:
Gareth Davies untangles himself from Rhys’ Webb
Unlike the majority of a new-look back division selected for Wales’ Six Nations squad, Gareth Davies is not exactly a fresh face. But due to the brilliance of Rhys Webb, the 27-year-old has had precious little chance to shine as an international scrum-half. To be fair to the Scarlets player, when he’s had an opportunity he’s usually taken it.
Anyone remember the fantastic and crucial try he scored against England as Wales usurped the hosts of a quarter-final place at the 2015 World Cup? After a shaky start with a loose kick against Scotland on Saturday he was largely imperious, scoring a 10th try in the red jersey on just his 28th cap.
Even though being shorn of one of your best players is never ideal, Davies has shown on numerous occasions his value for Wales and his comfort at this level. He now has an entire tournament to really make the number nine jersey his own.
Parkes has a field day
There was much furore when Hadleigh Parkes was selected in Wales’ squad for November’s Autumn Internationals. Not because of his upbringing, but because the New Zealander was picked despite the fact he wasn’t available to play until the fourth and final game of the series against South Africa.
On just his second appearance for his adopted homeland, however, it was abundantly clear why Warren Gatland and Wales have persevered with him. The 30-year-old Scarlets centre was supreme in defence, leading the Welsh backs in tackles made (six) while he was monstrous going forward, too. His 13 passes were second only to scrum-half Gareth Davies, the highlight was one that put winger Steff Evans in for Wales’ final try.
Parkes’ 13 runs was also third most in the Wales ranks and he made 78 metres, second only to Evans’ fine 114, while only Evans (six) made more clean breaks. Considering star man Jonathan Davies, named 2017’s BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year, was ruled out after getting injured in November, this was a hugely encouraging performance for Parkes and Wales.
Clinical Wales, error-prone Scotland
The scoreline read 34-7 but the gap between the two sides wasn’t as big as the margin of victory suggested. Wales were wonderful, that was clear for all to see, but the big difference between the sides was that while the hosts were clinical and made less mistakes, the Scots were woefully wasteful.
When Gatland’s men had chances, they invariably scored. Halfpenny was flawless from the boot, nailing four conversions, two impressively from the touchline, and two penalties.
Two of Wales’ four tries also came from interceptions – contributing to 18 Scottish turnovers compared to 11 from Wales. Scotland also missed 15 tackles, gave away eight penalties and lost three of their own lineouts, contributing to a day full of lows for the men from the Highlands.
Coach Gregor Townsend should be worried. It’s back to the drawing board for him, with the momentum his side had coming into the tournament from an exceptional autumn in danger of being significantly eroded after a damaging defeat.
The kids are alright
It’s important for Welsh fans to not get carried away, especially with favourites England up next at Twickenham. But it’s hard not to be positive after this Scottish slaughter.
Wales came into the Six Nations with not much expectation of success. In fact, most critics felt that with Davies out for the tournament and Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Sam Warburton, Liam Williams and Taulupe Faletau out for the opener, Wales were more likely to contend for the Wooden Spoon.
That an injury to Biggar’s understudy Rhys Priestland meant they started with third-choice fly-half Rhys Patchell in a key position should have only added to Wales’ mounting concerns. But Patchell, 24, pulled the strings in midfield in a commanding performance. Scarlets team-mate Stef Evans, 23, made 36 more metres than anyone else on the field while Ross Moriarty was magnificent at No8 as Wales made light of the absence of Faletau, one of the best in the world at his position.
A great victory but what will have pleased Gatland and his coaching staff more than anything is how his inexperienced players stepped up to the plate with little fuss.
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