Well, the semi-final between Wales and France could not have been closer, France won 9-8. The big talking point of the match was the sending off of the Wales captain and talisman Sam Warburton in the 19th minute, so with 61 minutes to go. A red card in rugby means the team are reduced to 14 men. Warburton was sent off for what is called a “spear tackle”, which is when a player picks up his opponent by the legs and drives him head down into the ground. The referee gave him an instant red card. The debate will rage in Wales and beyond as to whether it was a spear tackle – as such a tackle is an automatic red card offence. I am obviously biased, but to me it looked like a harsh tackle which merited a yellow card (10 minutes in the sin bin), but not a red card.
This is the half time analysis of the incident –
If you watch this analysis carefully, you will see that Sam Warburton lets go of the French player when his legs are up in the air, and so it cannot by definition be a spear tackle, as Warburton did not drive him into the ground. This is key – in my opinion the referee got his decision wrong. It should have been a yellow card (10 minutes) for a non-intentional dangerous tackle.
Despite this sending off, Wales were still in the game, and went into half time 6-3 down. In the second half France added another 3 points before Wales scored a superb try through Mike Phillips to come back to 9-8. The conversion, which normally Stephen Jones would get in his sleep, hit the outside of the post and didn’t go over. For the last 15 minutes of the game Wales were virtually camped in the France half, but we could not get the score we needed to seal victory.
To say there was a deflated feeling at the Millennium Stadium (where I watched the match along with some 60,000 other Welsh fans) would be an understatement. The last time Wales were in a semi-final, in 1987, we got thrashed by a rampant New Zealand 49-6. NZ ran in 8 tries on their way to winning their one and only World cup. I think I feel worse today that I did after that day, so it has left me wondering whether it is better to come close but still fail, or to be taught a lesson in rugby like we were 24 years ago?
Tomorrow New Zealand play Australia in the other semi-final. France await the winners, but it could so easily have been Wales. Instead we will have to content ourselves with the 3rd/4th place playoff match next Friday. I only hope the players can pick themselves up after today’s bitter disappointment, and give our opponents a good thrashing. I also hope the Welsh Rugby Union will do what they did today and open up the Millennium stadium for Welsh fans to go along and cheer our brave lads.