Leigh Halfpenny scored two tries as Wales launched their 2018 Six Nations quest with a 34-7 victory against Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday.
The fullback was responsible for 24 of Wales’ points in what was an emphatic reply to last year’s 29-13 loss against Scotland in Edinburgh. In addition to a brace of tries, Halfpenny kicked four conversions and two penalties, while Gareth Davies and Steff Evans each crossed for one try, as did Scotland replacement utility back Peter Horne.
Although they enjoyed superior possession and territory, Scotland were guilty of poor execution and Wales were happy to sit back and pounce on mistakes.
Scotland also gave away too many penalties and Halfpenny was on hand to punish them with a perfect kicking record.
Scotland can count themselves unlucky to have gone behind against the run of play, having dominated the early exchanges. Scrum-half Ali Price was slow to clear from the ruck and opposite number Davies read his pass like a novel, snatching the ball out of mid-air before winning the foot race with Scotland outside centre Chris Harris to dot down. Halfpenny added the extras.
Wales doubled their lead six minutes later. It was sloppy from Scotland to give away the scrum in the first place. Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell made the initial break from the set-piece but was halted metres short. Wales sucked in the Scottish defence before spraying the ball out wide to the right where Wales had two men waiting on the overlap. Halfpenny didn’t even need the man on his outside as he crashed over before converting his own try to give the home side a 12th-minute 14-0 lead.
Wales came flying out the blocks in the second half and were rewarded with a Halfpenny three-pointer five minutes in after referee Pascal Gauzere ruled that Scotland captain John Barclay had stolen the ball illegally at a ruck.
Soon after, Halfpenny slotted another penalty with Barclay the culprit again; this time for not releasing the tackler. This meant Wales led 20-0 with half an hour to go.
One could tell the Scotland backroom staff were not happy with the state of affairs when Scotland coach Gregor Townsend rung the changes on the 50-minute mark. His counterpart Warren Gatland responded by making a string of changes of his own.
Ten minutes later, Wales had their third. From a five-metre attacking lineout, the ball was switched from left to right as Wales showed patience in taking the ball through the phases. The space was created courtesy of quick hands from Evans to free Halfpenny on the right flank for the full-back to grab his brace. Halfpenny added the extras for a 27-0 lead.
A powerful carry up the middle from Wales flank Aaron Shingler got Wales on the front foot and the Scotland defence scrambling. The ball was recycled out left to centre Hadleigh Parkes who did well to slip his tackler and delay the pass just enough for Evans to produce a stylish one-handed finish in the corner.
With two minutes left on the clock, Scotland scored a consolation try when substitute Horne hurdled his way through the space behind the ruck; a momentary lapse of concentration from the Wales defence denying them a clean sheet.
Tries: G Davies, S Evans, Halfpenny 2
Cons: Halfpenny 4
Pens: Halfpenny 2
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Maitland
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: David Grashoff