Wales got their Six Nations campaign up and running with a 34-7 bonus point thrashing of Scotland in what was Warren Gatland’s 50th win in charge of his adopted country.
The New Zealander selected 10 Scarlets players hoping they could transfer their regional form on to the international stage and they delivered in stunning fashion with all 34 of the home points coming from men from the Llanelli-based team.
And Gatland insisted he “predicted victory by 20 points” and never doubted his injury-hit side would get their Six Nations campaign off to the perfect start against Scotland.
“It was an afternoon I was expecting with the way we have trained the last couple of weeks. “There was definitely a quiet confidence in the squad, they have been outstanding in their preparation and we went into the game expecting to win reasonably comfortably,” Gatland said.
“I told the chief executive that I thought we would win by 20 points at the team run and he was shocked, but that’s how well we’ve trained. the guys, they’ve been excellent.
“I thought we defended superbly, Scotland have a lot of attacking threats and we had to cope with that. Apart from the soft try at the end our defence was outstanding.
“Getting the bonus point was pleasing as well, and we probably left two or three tries out there on the pitch so there is some improvement for us to do there. As a squad we can all get better for next week.”
Two tries from Leigh Halfpenny, who contributed 24 points, and efforts from Gareth Davies and electric winger Steffan Evans sent Scotland crashing back down to earth. The visitors could only muster a Peter Horne try and a Finn Russell conversion.
The hosts made two nervy errors in the first five minutes, with Davies kicking out on the full and then missing a tackle on Jonny Gray who surged forward.
But the home scrum-half quickly made amends for his earlier errors by intercepting an Ali Price pass and showing blistering pace to run in from 60 metres out. Halfpenny converted.
Wales came close when man of the match Aaron Shingler made a blistering break from his own half before offloading to Dragons lock Cory Hill, who in turn passed to Rob Evans.
The Scarlets prop then passed back inside to Alun Wyn Jones only for Steffan Evans to spill the ball forward with the line at his mercy.
Halfpenny ends try drought
With Scotland pinned in their own 22, the ball was then spun wide to Hadleigh Parkes who put Halfpenny over for his first Test try in five years.
But Gregor Townsend’s men posed their own threats, with Russell beating Scott Williams to race away from his own 22.
He fed Price, before debutant Wales wing Josh Adams came from nowhere to smash him and put an end to the attack.
This Six Nations opener at times resembled a Super Rugby encounter rather than a fully blown Test match, such was the desire of both sides to play from deep with the hosts turning around 14-0 at the break.
Gatland’s side began the second half as they had finished the first, willing to take risks and attack from anywhere. Wales’s first points of the second half came after Scotland’s Scarlets captain John Barclay infringed at the breakdown giving Halfpenny the opportunity to extend the home lead.
The Scarlets man soon nailed another penalty to make it 20-0 and with that, the game was over.
By now Wales were totally dominant and came close to putting the game to bed when Wyn Jones was held up over the line.
But they did not have to wait long to cross the whitewash for the third time as Halfpenny raced over after Steffan Evans beautifully flicked the ball on to his regional teammate.
Wales came close to claiming the bonus point when Jones was held up over the line for the second time in 10 minutes after receiving a pass from substitute Gareth Anscombe.
Scarlets winger Steffan Evans secured the hosts a bonus-point try with seven minutes remaining with a blistering finish in the corner.
Halfpenny completed his perfect day with the boot and although Horne grabbed a consolation try in the closing stages, the hosts were resounding winners.