Wales heroes optimistic despite WCup pain
Welsh rugby greats mourned Sunday the rugby-mad nation's agonising defeat by France in the semifinals of the World Cup, but insisted there was plenty more to come from a youthful side.
France edged out Wales 9-8 at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday, with the Welsh down to 14 men for most of the game after the controversial sending off of 23-year-old captain Sam Warburton for a dangerous tackle.
"Wales should today have been celebrating a deserved a World Cup final spot but instead we are a rugby nation in mourning," legendary fly-half Barry John wrote in the Wales on Sunday newspaper.
"I won't go as far as to say that decision cost Wales victory. But they were agonisingly denied by decisions and circumstances out of their control.
"The red card for Warburton changed the game and deflated a nation. I thought it was a very harsh call."
But former Wales fly-half Phil Bennett, John's successor in the brilliant team of the 1970s, was scathing of Irish referee Alain Rolland's game-changing decision, lambasting it as "technically correct, but morally wrong, emotionally wrong, wrong to the bottom of my gut".
"Reffing should be about more than looking at the law book. It's about interpreting the spirit of the game as much as the rules, knowing where the law ends and common sense takes over," Bennett wrote in the Sunday Mirror.
Meanwhile Graham Price, another 'golden era' great, insisted the future was bright despite Wales's defeat in their first World Cup semifinal for 24 years.
"As hard as it may be to look at the longer term, that's what we must try to do now," the former prop forward said.
"As much as I wish we were now getting ready for a World Cup final, I am excited about what could lie ahead for Wales.
"We have quality, we have professionalism, we have confidence, and we have a batch of youngsters the envy of other nations.
"I expect to see us reap the rewards of these things come the (2012) Six Nations, by which time we will have recovered from this disappointment."
Elsewhere, there was praise for Wales's resilience, with the Sunday Telegraph saying in its editorial: "They fought like lions – like dragons, rather – but it was not to be.
"It is impossible not to admire the spirit of this young Welsh team, nor the manner of their play. That, of course, will be scant consolation to their supporters. But their performance will have made a nation proud."
The Sunday Times called it a valiant defeat.
"How do you comfort the Welsh nation and the millions who became honourary Welsh for the day?" it asked.
"How do you lift the spirits after the cruellest, closest, most excruciating defeat in the history of the Rugby World Cup?
"Wales can be proud that they came close to winning with 14 men. That was a true testament to their grit and fighting spirit."