Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Wales keep title dream on track

Richard Hibbard scores a try for Wales

Wales kept alive their hopes of retaining the RBS 6 Nations title by winning a frustrating penalty-fest at cold and windy Murrayfield 28-18 over Scotland.

A sixth successive victory in the fixture saw Wales move level on points at the table's summit with unbeaten, Grand Slam-chasing England, who host struggling Italy on Sunday. But Wales could not make any significant dent in England's sizeable points difference advantage, scoring a try by Richard Hibbard, while Leigh Halfpenny booted the conversion and seven penalties for a 23-point haul.

Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw replied with six penalties from eight attempts for Scotland, but it was another try-less experience from the home side's perspective after Laidlaw's boot saw them home against Ireland two weeks ago. The title remains England's to lose. They have a nine points better difference than Wales.

Wales made an immediate statement of intent, twice gaining scrum free-kicks before South African referee Craig Joubert awarded them a penalty when Scotland infringed again and Halfpenny booted them 3-0 ahead after four minutes. But the lead lasted just two minutes as Laidlaw found his range with a 40-metre penalty.

Wales then scored the game's opening try after 23 minutes when Hibbard crossed wide out following forward pressure close to Scotland's line. Halfpenny, who had uncharacteristically missed three successive penalty attempts, slotted the wide-angled conversion, but Scotland replied when Laidlaw completed his penalty hat-trick.

Laidlaw's fourth successful penalty nudged Scotland ahead by two points, only for the home side to infringe again and a Halfpenny strike gave the visitors a 13-12 interval advantage.

Laidlaw's fifth shot at goal two minutes into the second period produced his first miss after the ball dropped well short, and Wales cleared before moving well inside Scotland's half.

Halfpenny kicked another penalty to open up a four-point gap as visiting skipper Ryan Jones received treatment for an injury. Laidlaw's fifth successful penalty again narrowed the deficit to a point, and with Jones off, Wales needed to regroup in what was a nip-and-tuck encounter.

Scotland, though, continued to experience acute problems with referee Joubert's scrummaging interpretation, and when they conceded yet another penalty Halfpenny stepped up give Wales a 19-15 advantage after 56 minutes. Halfpenny and Laidlaw continued their shoot-out, each landing further three pointers as Wales led 22-18 entering the final quarter.

Another Halfpenny penalty took Wales seven points clear - he recovered brilliantly from his early misses - before his seventh successful strike put daylight between the teams. Scotland rallied to stage a strong finish, but Wales kept them out despite losing Paul James to the sin-bin, and hopes of achieving Six Nations silverware for a second straight season cannot be discounted.

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