Six Nations champions Wales ground out a 28-18 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of retaining the title after losing to Ireland in the opening round. Last year’s Grand Slam champions became the first Welsh side to win five successive matches away from home in the tournament and now face a potential title-decider against England at the Millennium stadium on Saturday.
England, who were to host Italy at Twickenham yesterday, are the only unbeaten side in the championship.
Flanker Sam Warburton, captain of the Grand Slam team, made a triumphant return after starting on the replacements’ bench in the third-round win over Italy.
Warburton took over the captaincy after Ryan Jones left the field with an injury and was named man-of-the-match for a splendid display in the loose during a scrappy match dominated by Wales’ forwards.
“I was so pleased to be part of the side again,” he told BBC television. “We knew it was going to be immensely tough at Murrayfield. We have to be proud of the win today. I’ll have 24 hours to relax and we can start looking forward to England on Monday.”
Wales hooker Richard Hibbard scored the only try of a match dominated by the boot. Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked seven penalties and a conversion and Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw, the hero of the home win over Ireland in the last round, kicked six.
The Welsh poured into the Scotland half after the kickoff and demonstrated their confidence in the pack when they opted to take a scrum both times after they were awarded two free-kicks.
They won a penalty at the second engagement and Halfpenny converted the simplest of kicks straight in front of the posts. Laidlaw replied immediately with a much more difficult effort from the right touchline.
Against the run of play, Scotland center Matt Scott drove his team deep into Welsh territory with a kick that bobbled out 1m from their line.
Wales took the lineout, but were penalized for offside and Laidlaw converted his second penalty.
Halfpenny had a chance to put Wales ahead but missed two attempts in quick succession from either side of the field in the swirling wind. A third effort hit an upright.
Winger George North then burst through the defense with a powerful run that brought his side close to the Scots’ line. After a series of surges, Hibbard extended a long arm to score his first try for his country.
Scotland flyhalf Duncan Weir, making his first international start, gave his side a great opportunity to score when he hacked ahead after a clever chip-kick and dragged his opposite number, Mike Biggar, over the line to earn a 5m scrum.
However, Scotland were penalized by Craig Joubert to the displeasure of the crowd, whose mood quickly changed when Laidlaw kicked a fourth penalty to give his side the lead.
With the whistle about to blow for halftime, Scotland lock Jim Hamilton conceded a clumsy penalty in front of his posts when he charged into Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips while the ball was still in a ruck. Halfpenny kicked the penalty to put his side 13-12 ahead at the interval.
Laidlaw was short with an early penalty attempt at the limit of his range at the start of the second half, while Halfpenny made no mistake with a much easier chance.
Both kickers landed further penalties for the sides as the game entered the final quarter, with Halfpenny then putting his side 10 points clear with two further penalties.
Scotland, who lost lock Richie Gray in the first half with a hamstring injury, besieged the Welsh line in the final minutes, but the defense held firm and Warburton won a vital penalty that enabled Wales to clear and stay 10 points ahead.
FRANCE VS IRELAND
France came from behind to draw 13-13 with Ireland in their Six Nations championship match on Saturday after Louis Picamoles’ late try ended Philippe Saint-Andre’s misfiring side’s run of three straight tournament defeats.
Ireland, who had beaten France only once in their past 13 attempts and also drew last year’s match, adapted to the wet conditions far better. They kept the ball among their forwards as much as possible and reaped the rewards when captain Jamie Heaslip dived over after 10 minutes.
Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson, showing none of the nerves that spoiled his debut against Scotland last time out, kicked his side into a 10-point halftime lead that Morgan Parra, taking over the kicking duties from Frederic Michalak, began to trim back in the second period.
Picamoles drove over six minutes from time and Michalak, back in charge of the kicking tee, leveled the scores for France, who must still get a result against Scotland next week to avoid their first last-place championship finish since 1999.