The completed article at Murrayfield was better than the sum of its parts. But it would be churlish to poke too many holes at a record margin win over Wales.
The Scots would have been forgiven for PTSD about games against Warren Gatland’s Wales. A Welsh friend of mine was scoffing at my (fading) doubts even with Scotland 20-7 to the good.
You were there as well in 2010, I pointed out.
Wales had much better players then, he countered, correctly. And yes, there’s no huge extra credit to be had for thrashing a team who are in such disarray.
But it still had to be done, and Scotland hadn’t won two-in-a-row to start a championship since 1996. Let’s enjoy that.
France and Ireland are Scotland’s next two opponents. They played an epic test match in Dublin which looked, to be frank, a world ahead of what was on show at Murrayfield.
But there are good reasons for optimism if Scotland are playing like they did in the final half-hour here.
Finn grabs the game by the scruff of the neck
10 – Finn Russell has provided 10 try assists in 9 Test matches for @Scotlandteam since the start of 2022, more than any other player from a Tier 1 nation in that time; he is also the first Scotland player to register a hat-trick of assists in a @SixNationsRugby game. Playmaker. pic.twitter.com/KvQOJ9wiVx
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 11, 2023
Regular readers will know I’m a Finn Russell absolutist. After decades covering Scotland when they were often dreadfully painful to watch, even those daft moments of Finnsanity are a pleasure.
But my one issue with the stand-off was that he didn’t grab a routine game for Scotland by the scruff of the neck often enough. He seemed to save that stuff for England, until this game
This was a pretty aimless sort of game for 45 minutes, and then Russell just took off.
That offload for the first Steyn try was not a new thing. He did exactly the same thing for Racing earlier this season – ironically at the time he was considered the fourth best stand-off available to Scotland.
He will be contained at times, he will make poor decisions and his execution sometimes falters – there was another kick out of the full here.
But really, the negatives are so massively outweighed by the positives it’s not worth measuring.
George Turner’s best-ever form
Turner did not come into the Six Nations playing his best rugby. He had a rough game for Glasgow against Bath in the last match before the squad gathered.
But last week he was a massive force against England, and he followed it up against the Welsh.
His lineout throwing has been on point – it helps having Richie Gray out there – and he’s a force about the field in carrying and in defence.
There was one careless high one on a stooping George North that cost Scotland a yellow and momentum before the break. But Turner, once discarded by Edinburgh, is unquestionably Scotland’s No 1 No 2.
Duhan’s extra worth to Scotland
Duhan van der Merwe didn’t get a sniff of the try-line this time. But contained? Not even slightly.
The official stats had him with 150 metres made – the next best was 91 – and eight tackles broken. No-one else managed more than three.
Most of those metres came in the second half as Scotland had confidence to put the ball wide. But even in more confined spaces, Duhan makes ground, goes through tackles and attracts more defenders than would otherwise be detailed for him.
Such a carry made the space for Steyn’s second score. Van der Merwe’s benefit for Scotland goes way beyond the worldie tries.
The Fagerson boys
Matt Fagerson scores the hosts fifth try. Finn Russell misses the conversion 🏉
Scotland 35-7 Wales
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) February 11, 2023
The Fagerson brothers made 37 tackles. Matt had the best tackle count for the second week in a row with 20. But Zander’s 17 on his return were crucial when the game was an arm-wrestle.
He hadn’t played since injuring his hamstring at Zebre in the first days of December. But Gregor Townsend’s belief that he would lock in immediately after a two month gap was correct.
Zander maybe isn’t quite the technical scrummager that WP Nel is. But he offers an all-round game that the veteran doesn’t especially in carrying, defence and clearouts.
Almost unnoticed, he’s reached 55 caps at just 27. If he looks after himself like Nel, he could still have another decade left.