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Wales 26-27 Scotland: The historic Six Nations win that felt like a defeat

In the end, nothing made sense. The loser felt better than the winner. The lifting of a trophy was rarely done with less gusto.

The triumphant visitors wore long faces, rejoicing in a first win in this place in 22 years by wearing the look of men who had earned a reprieve from the gallows.

One of their number said that this historic victory felt more like a defeat. And it did. It was one of the most extraordinary Tests that Scotland have ever been involved in. A wild ride. A journey to the dark side.

After 43 minutes of this surreal epic, rampant Scotland led pitiful Wales by 27-0. Duhan van der Merwe had just run in their third try from close on halfway.

The famed Principality crowd had been hushed. A lone piper could be heard amid the sea of red. This was a rout. An exhibition.

Poor Wales. Callow and humiliated. Trounced in front of their own people. You felt for Dafydd Jenkins, a fine player and the second youngest captain of Wales in all of time.

You watched Warren Gatland who, at times, looked like his coaching life was flashing before him. New Zealand couldn’t ever have felt so far away.

Scotland are the great entertainers, though. They’re box office. A marquee act. From total domination to total capitulation. Their collapse was like one of those slow motion videos of a crash test dummy.

‘Rabbits in headlights have looked more composed’

Maybe it was the sound of the pipes that sparked Wales into life. Maybe it was the sense of hopelessness and mortification that made them throw caution, and inferiority, to the wind.

They cannot have expected Scotland to implode as they did, but with the magnificent Aaron Wainwright leading the charge they weren’t of a mind to ask questions.

James Botham scored and George Turner got binned. No big deal. The gap was still 22 points, one for every year that Scotland have spent searching for a victory in this stadium.

Now Rio Dyer scored. Five minutes between the tries. A silent Principality suddenly more animated. A noisy piper suddenly drowned out. The gap was down to 15.

Scotland fans started looking at each other. Fatalism is bred into these people at birth. Still a three-score game, but they know the signs. A rising penalty count, an utter plot-loss in discipline. Avoidable errors. Bad decisions.

In the first half, Wales’ line-out was so poor that it was almost difficult to look at. In the blink of an eye, it had become a thing of beauty.

Their thrower could have found his jumper with a blindfold on. They took ball off the top and went at Scotland with a vengeance.

Sione Tuipulotu was warned about coming up offside. Then he got binned. Then Wainwright scored. Then the colour started to drain from Scottish faces. An eight-point game. Nineteen unanswered points. A stadium in raptures.

On Friday, Finn Russell spoke of the power of the home crowd and how it can elevate their heroes in red. He said that he was going to talk to all of his team-mates to warn them of this phenomenon.

For a half, they must have thought he was joking. For the other half they found out that he was telling the truth.

Rabbits in headlights have looked a whole lot more composed than Scotland did in those moments. Complacency set in and was followed by panic. It was compelling. The psychology of sport was writ large over every second.

Alex Mann came on to the pitch for his debut and promptly scored try number four. One point separated the sides. In the coaches box, Gregor Townsend looked like he’d seen the ghost of Cardiff past.

The dramatic surrender in 2010 when he was Andy Robinson’s assistant sprang to mind. Ten points ahead with three minutes to go, Scotland lost.

That defeat would have paled when set beside the one that looked like befalling Scotland now. “Hold my beer,” the boys of 2024 told the lads of 2010.

Scotland conceded 26 points on the spin, 21 of them while down to 14 men. Their mental weakness in the face of rampaging Wales was stunning.

Luke Crosbie went off injured, his shaken expression mirroring that of every Scotland supporter.

Crosbie still has a small chance of being fit for France on Saturday, which is more than can be said of Richie Gray, their kingpin at the line-out, whose championship may already be over.

Tuipulotu ended up as back-row forward as Scotland hung on. They rallied, got some possession, calmed themselves down and then lost their nerve again.

With three minutes left, they had a line-out. Secure the ball, work the phases, kill the clock. No. Far more fun to fire the line-out throw over the top and into Welsh hands.

You’d have been tempted to bet the house on Wales at that point. Scotland didn’t look like they could save themselves. They looked spent. A beaten docket.

To their credit, they found enough steel to see it out. They came within an inch of scoring a fourth try – and a third for Van der Merwe – but it wasn’t to be.

When it ended, there was no celebration, no joy. The Scots just stood there not knowing what to do with themselves.

Later, some of them said they were still at a loss to figure out what happened to them out there and how they went from coasting to crisis mode. Rarely in Scottish rugby history has a win felt so bizarre, so trippy.

The review session in their team hotel will be a classic. Just as well these meetings tend to take place in a darkened room.

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