Wales came from a 12-point deficit to claim a 20-19 victory over a 14-man France side in the World Cup quarter-finals in Oita on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Despite blitzing to an early 12-0 lead and then taking a nine-point lead into the break, France suffered a collapse in the second half, being reduced to 14-men and allowing Wales to scrape through into the semi-finals. It was unfortunate as France had the better of the attacking opportunities and were cutting holes in the Welsh defence through some swashbuckling play from flyhalf Romain Ntamack, centre Virimi Vakatawa and wing Damian Penaud especially.
The red card shown to lock Sebastien Vahaamahina undoubtedly had an impact. Vahaamahina, so inspirational with some powerful carries in the first half, produced a moment of stupidity, frankly, as he threw an elbow while France were in a driving maul near the Welsh line at the beginning of the second half. Given that it collided with the head of a Welsh forward, referee Jaco Peyer was left with no choice but to send him off. Ironically this echoed the 2011 World Cup semi-final between the two sides, when it was then Welsh captain Sam Warburton who was shown red.
Despite the red card, France still showed incredible character both in attack and on defence. They honestly had the better of play but were let down by not finishing their opportunities. This was especially the case as they were unable to add to their lead while replacement flank Ross Moriarty was yellow-carded towards the end of the first half.
It was hardly a perfect performance from the Welsh. Losing senior centre Jonathan Davies to injury before the match and then seeing No 8 Josh Navidi limp off halfway through the first half undoubtedly caused a disruption. Even so, Wales still don’t seem to pose enough of an attacking threat to suggest they can trouble either Japan or South Africa in the semi-finals. Scoring just a single try in just under a full half of rugby against 14 men is something that should be a concern to coach Warren Gatland.
France could not have wished for a better start to the match, blitzing to an early 12-0 lead thanks to two tries in the space of two minutes. First, Vahaamahina muscled over from close range and then a breakaway from the ensuing kickoff saw flank Charles Ollivon on hand to finish off.
Wales struck back through a poacher’s try from Aaron Wainwright, who gathered a loose ball and sprinted clean through, before Dan Biggar knocked over the first of his two penalties. France ensured they took a healthy 19-10 lead into the break when Vakatawa burst over the line thanks to an excellent offload from Penaud.
Through some incredible defence, it looked like France may pull off a massive upset. However, a massive Welsh scrum near the French line allowed Tomos Williams to rip the ball and Moriarty to ground the ball for the winning try.
Wales – Tries: Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty. Conversion: Dan Biggar (2). Penalty: Biggar (2).
France – Tries: Sebastien Vahaamahina, Charles Ollivon, Virimi Vakatawa. Conversion: Romain Ntamack (2).
Wales –15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tom Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
France –15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Vincent Rattez.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images