Dejected Wales question red card
The gutted Welsh wore their hearts on their sleeves as they accepted that their World Cup had effectively been ended by the red card that was waved at skipper Sam Warburton in the 17th minute of their semifinal against France.
The French won 9-8 to win through to their second World Cup final, ironically on the same Eden Park field where they faced the All Blacks in the decider of the inaugural tournament 24 years ago.
We will know within the next 24 hours whether history will repeat itself completely, as the Kiwis tackle Australia in the other semifinal here on Sunday.
For the second time in the same week the refereeing was the talking point after the game, with Alain Rolland’s decision to red card Warburton criticised by Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“Having looked at the incident we accept that Sam did lift him (French wing Vincent Clerq) and that maybe does warrant a yellow card in terms of the directive the referees have been given at this tournament,” said Gatland.
“But there was nothing malicious in the tackle and Sam did not drive the tackled player into the ground. What surprised me was that the referee’s decision was so instant. He did not wait to consult his touch judges.
"Up in the coaches' box we were still discussing and looking at what happened and suddenly someone said that Sam had been sent from the field.”
Warburton reiterated his coaches view and said there had not been any malicious intent on his part.
“There was nothing malicious in it at all. I felt his body weight give under him and then the next thing I found myself walking towards the stands,” said the Welsh flanker.
Welsh defence coach Shaun Edwards was the most blunt of all the Welsh management members asked for an opinion on the game and the incident.
“We think it’s a travesty because the team that should be playing in the final next Sunday won’t be, it’s as simple as that,” said Edwards.
And not many who were at Eden Park for the game will disagree with that view, or the following words from Gatland.
“When two quality teams are playing each other and one of them has a player red carded and is reduced to 14 men that really is the ball game. So I am immensely proud of the way the guys fought tonight with just 14 men.
"We came so close to winning it, but we feel that our destiny was determined by what happened in the 17th minute.”
Asked if it was the red card or the missed kicks that cost his team, Gatland said it was a bit of both.
There were four missed kicks in all, three missed penalties and a missed conversion. Of those, only Leigh Halfpenny’s monster effort five minutes from time that fell just short of the cross-bar was particularly difficult.
In rugby league the subject of foul play is handled in such a way that there are always the same number of players on the field in each team, thus not reducing the contest for the spectator. Gatland said he would like the same to be done in rugby union.
“I think there are things in both codes that the other code can learn from, and I think this is one of them. In rugby league a player is put on report when something like what happened today takes place, the game is not reduced to a mismatch,” he said.
While the Welsh limped away to confront the reality that they will have to play the loser of Sunday’s semifinal in the third and fourth play-off next Friday, France coach Marc Lievremont celebrated a place in a final he always thought his team would be part of.
“I don’t care how we got to the final, we are in the final. We always saw ourselves playing New Zealand in the final. We would love to play New Zealand in the final,” said the French coach.
The last time the French played New Zealand though was in the pool phase of this competition, where they lost 37-17.
Although Dan Carter has been ruled out since then, France, who showed absolutely no ambition and kicked virtually every scrap of possession they had away, will go into the game rated as the worst finalists in World Cup history up to now.
Apart from being thumped by the Kiwis, they were also well beaten by Tonga in a pool game two weeks ago and while their tournament was turned around with the win against England last week, they were not impressive enough in winning the semifinal to suggest they will be a threat to anyone in the final.
“It was not their fault that Sam was sent off and they deserve credit for the way they defended, but I just hope France play more rugby in the final than they did in this game,” said Gatland.