Francis helps Wales to sink Scotland
By Mark Stevens
Tomas Francis grabbed the bragging rights over two of his Exeter Chiefs team-mates as he helped Wales maintain their unbeaten start in this season’s Guinness Six Nations with a 25-24 victory over Scotland,
Fresh from helping Wayne Pivac’s side see off Ireland in the opening round, the tight-head was again at the forefront of Wales’ latest success, featuring for just over an hour at BT Murrayfield.
In what a titanic encounter in Edinburgh, it was Francis who was smiling come the final whistle as he saw off club-mates Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg, the latter of whom scored twice for the hosts.
Hogg’s double, coupled with a touchdown for Darcy Graham, appeared to be enough for the Scots, whose remaining points came from the boot of fly-half Finn Russell.
However, a red card for Zander Fagerson proved decisive for the Scots and it was Wales who ultimately prospered thanks to tries from Louis Rees-Zammit (2), Liam Williams and Wyn Jones.
After the game, Wales head coach Pivac praised "a lot of work from a lot of people" after his side set themselves up for a Triple Crown tilt.
Wales suffered six successive defeats under Pivac last year, suggesting there was little chance of starting the Six Nations campaign with victories over Ireland and Scotland. But that is exactly what has been delivered - and England in Cardiff on February 27 now stand between Wales and landing the first major silverware of Pivac's coaching reign.
A tense triumph against Ireland was followed by another nerve-shredding experience at Murrayfield, where wing sensation Rees-Zammit’s try double underpinned Wales' 17th win from the last 20 Tests at Scotland's expense.
While the Scots were left to reflect on prop Fagerson's sending-off and seeing a 17-3 lead wiped out, Wales could reflect on their first away win under Pivac, complete with a try bonus point.
"What we did in the Autumn Nations Cup (last year) is well-documented, with a view to the World Cup and building some depth," Pivac said. "With the side that we put out (against Scotland), we had to call on some depth at number six and in the midfield. Everybody put their hand up when they needed to.
"The atmosphere in the group, the environment in training is a very good one. The senior players are leading very well. The guys are enjoying coming to work, I think, and we are certainly enjoying working with them.
"It is a lot of work from a lot of people, it's not just down to one or two individuals. It is a real squad effort, and I am pleased. There is a long way to go, but we are certainly happy to have those nine points."
Wales have a healthy 70 per cent success-rate against England across the last 10 Tests in Cardiff. And after being without a quarter of his original 36-man Six Nations squad through injuries or suspension for the trip to Edinburgh, Pivac could welcome back some big names.
Wing Josh Adams, top try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup, is available again after serving a two-match ban for breaching Covid-19 protocols, while British and Irish Lions backs George North (foot) and Jonathan Davies (ankle) are among those aiming to prove their fitness.
Looking ahead to England, Pivac added: "We've got a week off, but we will still be in work and reviewing the performance, looking at the areas of our game that we need to attend to. As we must, we will look to keep improving the performance. England will pose a different challenge. We fully respect the side that they have and the threats they will pose."
Rees-Zammit, inevitably, will be left, right and centre of the build-up to England's Principality Stadium visit.
The 20-year-old Gloucester speedster has scored four tries in his first six Tests, and is arguably Wales' most exciting newcomer since North arrived as a teenager and touched down twice on debut against South Africa in 2010.