Wales weather Scotland fightback to keep grand slam hopes alive

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EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Wales moved one step closer to a Six Nations grand slam and extended a national record winning streak to 13 matches on Saturday, beating Scotland 18-11 thanks to first-half tries from Josh Adams and Jonathan Davies.

The win means Wales sit on top of the Six Nations table with 16 points, but face a tough test to clinch the tournament when they host Ireland in Cardiff on March 16.

Defeat in that fixture would open the door for England to take the title if, as expected, they beat Italy and Scotland in their final two games at Twickenham.

Wales’s totemic captain Alun Wyn Jones praised his teammates for toughing out a second half in which they scored just three points to Scotland’s five.

“All the way through the tournament we have been very real about our performances, we said yesterday we hadn’t fulfilled our potential and we still feel that,” he said.

“Today epitomizes where we have been over the last 12 months, we haven’t hit our straps but we came through.”

After dominating the first half against an injury-hit and error-prone Scotland, Wales had to survive a stirring second-half comeback as the hosts brought a previously subdued Murrayfield crowd to their feet with a score from Darcy Graham.

The electric winger skipped over after Byron McGuigan sliced through a gap created by a slick inside ball from the returning fly half Finn Russell.

Replacement Hamish Watson was to the fore in the Scottish comeback, bringing some of the carrying power that Scotland had lacked in the first half with a series of bruising charges.

But Scotland spurned several opportunities to kick for goal in pursuit of a second try that never came, leaving Wales to breathe a sigh of relief at narrowly closing out a game they had earlier threatened to steamroll.

The visiting side led 15-6 at half-time, with the scoreline not reflecting their overall dominance as Scotland struggled to cope with Wales’ mix of crushing phase-based attack play and sharp finishing.

Welsh winger Adams crossed for the first try of the game, sidestepping and then speeding round the outside of Scotland’s defence after some quick passing.

Replays, however, suggested the final pass to Adams was probably forward.

Centre Davies added a second try after a trademark relentless series of attacks by Wales, reminiscent of the 30-phase assault that saw them score against England.

Scotland were hit by a string of first-half injuries that added to an already lengthy pre-game roster of absent players, with the back-three duo of Tommy Seymour and Blair Kinghorn going off early.

Wales fullback Liam Williams also left in the second half, right arm slung in his shirt, although Wales coach Warren Gatland later said the injury was not serious.

Wales are on track to win a first grand slam since 2012 after they turned over the tournament’s early frontrunners England on February 23 with a 21-13 win in Cardiff.

Scotland meanwhile face the prospect of ending a disappointing campaign with a solitary win unless they can inflict a shock defeat against England in their final fixture.

Their coach Gregor Townsend nonetheless said the spirit shown by the second half fightback meant Scotland could look back positively on Saturday’s defeat.

“I am very proud of the players, we started the game well, we had adjustments to make with players getting injured and didn’t defend well for the second quarter, but I believe we were the better team in the second half,” he said.

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