France in: but real final is Australia v New Zealand
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Wales lost the first semi-final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup 8-9 rather than France winning the match. Both sides played uninspired and essentially negative rugby.
The lackluster win by France suggests that tonight’s semi-final between the Wallabies and the All Blacks will be the real final. It is difficult to see how either of these sides won’t defeat France in the tournament decider next Sunday.
The game was lost by Wales for four reasons. First, they lost their captain Sam Warburton in the 24th minute when he made a dynamic, strong tackle on the French winger Vincent Clerc. It was the perfect hit with the shoulder driving Clerc up. But instead of holding the winger, Warburton started to drive him into the turf before letting him go.
Warburton’s cause was not helped by Clerc milking the outcome of the penalty. He lay prone for a couple of minutes before carrying on, after the red card had been handed out, as if nothing had happened.
I have had my doubts about the French gamesmanship in milking penalties after Morgan Parra got one against the All Blacks, with a blatant dive, in the pool round match. And later in the semi-final, Clerc tried to win another penalty with a dive. But this time referee Alain Rolland was awake to the stunt and called for the play to continue.
Stuart Barnes reckoned after the match that the referee over-reacted by giving the red card and not a yellow. Barnes was insistent that Warburton did not drive Clerc into the turf, he was not a dirty player and that, therefore, the referee had made a mistake. This mistake cost Wales the game. ‘There is no way it was a red card,’ he said time and time again on a panel after the match. ‘It was not the decision of a top referee.’
I agree with him. John Eales is also on-board commenting that the tackle was never more than a yellow card.
The IRB has to do something about this milking of penalties. I believe that these dives should be reviewed after the match and if it is a dive then the player should be suspended for a match.
Even though they played for nearly an hour without a player, a captain and their main fetcher, Wales could still have won the contest if they had kicked their goals. They missed 4 penalties, a conversion (which should have been better positioned if Mike Phillips had scored closer to the posts, as he could), and two dropped goals.
France, on the other hand, kicked all three of their penalties, although they missed a dropped goal attempt.
Wales, even though they were a man short, kicked the ball away too much. I can’t believe the number of times they kicked the ball back to the French instead of running at them. When Phillips did run he scored an easy try.
The only really good aspect of the French play, aside from their defence around the rucks and mauls, was their lineout. Wales simply could not win their lineout ball. This meant they couldn’t mount the continual pressure Wales needed to mount against a poor French side.
The point about all this is that the World Cup is a tournament. The winner is the team that wins the final and not necessarily the best team in the tournament or, indeed, world rugby. Wales lost their crucial scrum leader, the prop Adam Jones. Then came the yellow card decision.
So tonight’s semi-final assumes an even bigger importance, if that is possible. For it seems impossible for France to win this tournament after losing two pool round matches (against New Zealand and Tonga) and then playing so poorly for their lucky win against Wales.
Both the Wallabies and the All Blacks are suffering from injuries. The latest player to drop out, Kurtley Beale, probably changes the balance of favouritism to the All Blacks. Beale made the crucial break-out against the Springboks and his work under the high ball has been very good.
But as France showed this week and the week before, it is not necessary to go into a match as favourites to come out winners. Sometimes luck and the bounce of the ball is enough to give a result that might not seem to be apparent before the match is played.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.