RWC 2019: Organised chaos as Wales edge France in a repeat of 2011 World Cup semi-final

Matt Jones - Editor 17:24 20/10/2019
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Hadleigh Parkes celebrates Ross Moriarty's try.

Wales gained a semblance of revenge on France as they edged home in a thrilling Rugby World Cup quarter-final, beating Les Bleus 20-19 in Oita.

Warren Gatland’s men were behind until the 75th minute following a stunning display from the French, who first showed off their free-flowing attacking rugby to storm into 12-0 and 19-10 leads, before displaying resilience and grit to defy the Dragons after Sebastien Vahaamahina’s red card.

Vahaamahina, Charles Ollivon, and the brilliant Virimi Vakatawa had scored first-half tries for the French, Aaron Wainwright replying for Wales. And only Ross Moriarty’s late score, converted by Dan Biggar, edged Wales home by a point, following Vahaamahina’s exit for an elbow on Wainwright.

It was reminiscent of the semi-final eight years ago when Wales had Sam Warburton sent off but dug in and lost out on a place in the final by a point, losing 9-8.

CAN’T DIS-CARD THE SIMILARITIES

Sebastien Vahaamahina saw red for an elbow on Aaron Wainwright.

Sebastien Vahaamahina saw red for an elbow on Aaron Wainwright.

It’s funny how the universe works. You sometimes hear in sport the phrase “you just couldn’t write it”, but there cannot have been more truth to the meaning of it than in Oita on Sunday.

On October 15, 2011, France beat Wales to reach their third World Cup final. The result came after a red card for their opponents but only following a mighty scrap and a brave, spirited fight from the 14 men. Ultimately Wales were vanquished, France victorious.

Fast forward eight years – or 2,927 days – and Wales claimed a barely believable victory over Les Bleus to reach just a third-ever World Cup semi-final. They did so after a red card for their opponents and only following a mighty scrap and a brave, spirited fight from the 14 men. This time it was the men in blue left vanquished, the men in red victorious.

The irony is not lost on either set of fans. Inside Eden Park eight years ago, Wales fans had the life sucked out of them when Alain Rolland controversially sent captain Warburton off for a tip-tackle on France wing Vincent Clerc. Wales faced the prospect of playing 61 minutes down a man. France, seemingly, had a red carpet walk into the final.

It was anything but, though. A stirring, spirited second-half display kept them in the game and Mike Phillips even crossed for the only try with 23 minutes left to set up an epic finale. But Stephen Jones’ conversion struck the upright and Leigh Halfpenny missed a long-range penalty at the death as France held on.

Back to the present; an eerily similar scenario in Oita. The main difference being there was nothing controversial about Vahaamahina’s dismissal for a violent elbow to Wainwright’s face.

France faced 32 minutes a man down and yet, even though they did not add to their 19 points, they summoned a superhuman effort and forced a litany of mistakes from Wales that looked likely to cost them dearly.

Only Biggar’s conversion of Moriarty’s try five minutes from time edged his side ahead. And even then it was a nerve-jangling five minutes before they could celebrate.

ORGANISED CHAOS

Virimi Vakatawa had a storming game for France.

Virimi Vakatawa had a storming game for France.

In every game on their run to the knockout stages, Wales had been in full control of proceedings. Even in the nerve-shredding 29-25 triumph over Australia in which they had to withstand one hell of a Wallabies comeback in the second half, they were always at the wheel.

But there was no captain steering this unmissable shipwreck of a game that rose and crashed like a storm at sea. You couldn’t take your eyes off it for a second.

Wales are the superior team and France have been frustrating to watch for well over a decade now. Equally capable of the beguiling as they are the bewildering. But from the moment they opened the scoring in the fifth minute this was set up to be a scrappily brilliant contest with the two prized pugilists competing blow for blow.

It was organised chaos and it suited the bohemian French flair as opposed to the more stout and resolute rugby Wales have played under Warren Gatland. The French forced Wales to play their game, which was as engaging as it was error-strewn. The duo combined for 25 turnovers and Wales missed a staggering 26 tackles.

And yet it ended in the same fashion as their Six Nations date in Paris at the start of February. France raced into a 16-0 lead before throwing it away and losing 24-19.

They imploded then and despite the credit with which they’ll rightly emerge from this contest, the frustration will be annoyingly familiar.

FROM MIDFIELD MAESTRO TO PACK MENTALITY

Wainwright grew up idolising Patrick Vieira.

Wainwright grew up idolising Patrick Vieira.

In the Welsh back row, an area of mammoth men, Wainwright’s impact on their run to the quarter-finals had been fairly understated prior to this. But his contribution was gigantic against the French as he earned himself the man of the match award.

Five runs, from which 64 metres were made; only Liam Williams made more. He made two clean breaks, more than any team-mate, the joint most of any player on the field in fact. He added 14 tackles on the defensive side of the ball – only Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones and Tomos Francis completed more. He even chipped in with his first Wales try to keep them in it early on when France threatened to run away.

Wainwright’s rise is stunning when you consider the 22-year-old is a footballer-turned rugby player who only took up rugby seriously six years ago – two years before the last World Cup.

The blindside flanker was actually a pretty good central defensive midfielder, who joined the Cardiff City academy aged seven, playing with the Bluebirds until he was 16.

While red-shirted colleagues will have grown up idolising Gareth Edwards, Neil Jenkins or Shane Williams, Wainwright’s heroes were Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele, moulding his game on the iconic midfielders.

He even got the chance to receive coaching from Arsenal legend Vieira while he was in Wales taking his badges, when Wainwright was 14 and still dreaming of a professional career with the round ball.

Cardiff released him and he was offered a scholarship with home town Newport. But it would have meant moving schools and leaving his mates, which Wainwright didn’t want to do.

That’s when he got into rugby. And he’s since switched from protecting things in front of the back four to moving to the 15-man game and picking up the ball with his hands. Now he’s a game away from a shot at getting his hands on the Webb Ellis trophy.

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RWC 2019: Michael Cheika says he had no choice but to resign as Australia coach

Press Association Sport 14:37 20/10/2019
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Michael Cheika has insisted he had no choice but to resign after Australia were dumped out of the Rugby World Cup by England.

The former Leinster and Stade Francais boss has stepped down as Wallabies head coach in the wake of Saturday’s 40-16 thumping in the quarter-finals.

The 52-year-old admitted he had to resign after pledging to the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) that he would quit if the Wallabies fell short of their World Cup potential.

Cheika angrily refused to answer questions about his future in the immediate aftermath of Australia’s hefty loss to England, but only a day later he has confirmed his tenure is at an end.

“At the time I wasn’t keen to answer but I always knew the answer in my head,” said Cheika. “I wanted to speak to my wife and tell a few people I care about.

“I put my chips in earlier in the year, I said ‘no win, no play’, so I’m the type of person who will always back what he says.

“I knew from the final whistle, but I just wanted to give it some time to settle down. I have no regrets about making the call, but yes, I would love to stay on.

“We have a lot of pride and a lot of honour, but I made my call.

“I wanted to show I was prepared to put myself on the line to achieve what I believed the team could and we didn’t do that, so I’ve got to stand by what I said.”

Sydney-born but of Lebanese descent, Cheika made his name as an uncompromising back-rower at Randwick, where he forged a close bond with current England boss Eddie Jones.

Cheika made his fortune away from the game in a clothing business specialising in jeans, and he has now admitted he has no need to remain in rugby.

Asked whether he will seek a return to top-level coaching, Cheika said: “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it to be honest.

“It will be very hard to replicate the thrill and excitement of coaching at international level to be honest.

“I’ve never coached as a job, only for the pleasure. I haven’t really thought about it, so I’ll see what happens next.

“I’m not swayed by many things, as long as I know I’m doing my absolute best, leaving no stone unturned to prepare the team but also representing the game for the whole country.

“I tried my absolute best to do that. I’ve loved every minute of it so there’s no emotional toll.

“I’m no drama queen. I love the ups and downs, and that’s the way it rolls. I’m no finger-pointer. I think I’m half-and-half for wins which isn’t too dissimilar across the board.

“I’m not looking for an excuse there or an excuse here. I’ve tried to make the best of every opportunity I’ve been given. We weren’t able to deliver consistency over the whole time.

“We had some great moments, that comes with part of the challenges we’ve got around losing players overseas, young players coming through.

“But at the end of the day that’s pretty irrelevant, it’s all about trying to do the best you can in any given situation. Our best wasn’t good enough in this tournament.”

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said in a statement: “On behalf of Rugby Australia, I want to thank Michael for his dedication and service to the role of Wallabies head coach since taking up the position in 2014.

“Michael is a passionate and experienced coach who worked tirelessly to get the best out his players. He cares deeply about the Wallabies and the game of rugby, and always set out with the aim of making Wallabies fans proud of the team’s performances.”

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RWC 2019: Wales stage stunning fightback to win a gripping contest against 14-man France

Press Association Sport 13:44 20/10/2019
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Wales staged a stunning fightback victory to win a gripping Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Oita after France pressed the self-destruct button .

The Six Nations champions’ 20-19 victory was secured by Ross Moriarty’s 74th-minute try that Dan Biggar converted.

There was an agonising wait while the officials checked for a possible Wales knock-on in the build-up play, but the try was awarded.

A Wales win looked unlikely for long periods as an often flamboyant and brilliant French team dominated.

But the game changed course after Les Bleus lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off in the 48th minute for elbowing Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright in the face.

Wales trailed by nine points at the time, but they dug deep after an earlier Wainwright try, while Biggar booted 10 points.

France were breathtaking at times, showcasing their beguiling best as Vahaamahina, flanker Charles Ollivon and centre Virimi Vakatawa scored first-half tries.

Wales conceded two touchdowns during the first eight minutes, had Moriarty sin-binned for a high tackle, yet they somehow got over the winning line.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland steps down after the tournament following a 12-year reign highlighted by three Six Nations Grand Slams.

And Wales’ World Cup adventure will now continue for at least another week, with Japan or South Africa their semi-final opponents.

It was the eighth time in nine attempts since France knocked Wales out of the 2011 World Cup for Wales to defeat Les Bleus.

And it was a win that was underpinned by their fearless resolve, never-say-die attitude and unshakeable self-belief.

Wales suffered a major blow ahead of the game when their British & Lions centre Jonathan Davies was ruled out after aggravating a knee injury.

Owen Watkin moved off the bench to take over in midfield, with Leigh Halfpenny joining the replacements.

Wales were rattled by an aggressive French start as their big ball-carriers made headway.

It was all hands to the pump for Wales’ defenders, but France went ahead after five minutes when Vahaamahina powered over for a try from close range.

And before Wales could recover from that setback, they fell further behind after a brilliant France move from inside their own half saw scrum-half Antoine Dupont deliver a scoring pass to Ollivon.

Fly-half Roman Ntamack converted Ollivon’s score, and France were rampant, leading 12-0 after just eight minutes.

Wales had to reply quickly following such an unsettling opening, and they delivered courtesy of a 12th-minute try for Wainwright.

The Dragons forward, who had never previously scored for his country, gathered a loose ball and then galloped clear from 30 metres out to touch down, with Biggar’s conversion making it 12-7.

It was a strong response, and then Biggar kicked a penalty to leave Wales just two points adrift after 20 minutes.

Wales appeared back in the contest, and they began to shade the territorial battle, but the Six Nations champions then suffered an injury blow when flanker Josh Navidi went off and was replaced by Moriarty.

But Moriarty had not been on the pitch for two minutes when referee Jaco Peyper yellow-carded him for a high tackle on France centre Gael Fickou.

Moriarty’s exit left Wales at sixes and sevens, and France punished them in ruthless fashion when Vakatawa crossed for their third try.

Ntamack converted to make it 19-10, and 14-man Wales were left hanging on, and they had a mountain to climb as Moriarty returned.

Ntamack went off at half-time and was replaced by Camille Lopez, but Vahaamahina was then sent off following a crass act of stupidity that left Peyper with no choice but to brandish a red card.

A Biggar penalty cut the gap to six points, and then came pulsating late drama as Wales triumphed.

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