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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wales: Seeing Red

The moment that changed France-Wales
Like some of my sleep deprived compatriots in the USA, I was up at 4 AM EDT to watch Wales and France in the first Semi-final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Wales was looking for a first-ever trip to the Final. France was looking to overcome internal dissension and poor pool play to book a place in the finals for the first time since 1999, after their epic, enthralling win against the All Blacks in the Semis.

In this first Semi, Wales looked the better of the two teams early on, as both teams were having a helluva time with the wet ball. It affected the handling and even the kicking game-James Hook missed a penalty when his plant foot slipped under him, and the kick would sail just wide right. He did convert an earlier penalty that had Wales up 3-0.

In the 18th minute, the young Welsh Captain Sam Warburton followed through on a tackle of French wing Vincent Clerc by picking the French wing up in the air and off his feet and Clerc's head hit the ground first. In judo it would have been a match-winning ippon. In rugby, it's a very dangerous tackle-the perfect marriage of the speedy Clerc running into the bigger and stronger Welsh flanker. Irish referee Alain Rolland did not hesitate for a second. A red card to Warburton at this early stage of the game changed it: Gone was the Welsh leader, a very good player, and a forward. This would have affect the Welsh scrum against the French.

I thought at this point that the rout would be on. No way would Wales be able to stay close to the French. I was wrong.

To have called the Welsh heroic for their play while being a man down for 62 minutes against a talent-laden French side would be an understatement. France put themselves into position late in the first half to threaten with tries, and yet, the Welsh went into the locker-room at half-time down only 6-3, courtesy of the boot of Morgan Parra-who would add one more penalty in the second half to make it 9-3.

The French seemed content to kick the ball for territory. Some of their kicking seemed aimless. With a man advantage, the French seemed like they were playing not to lose rather than playing to win. I cannot think of the last time I saw a XV de France play that way. It almost bit France in the ass.

Welsh scrum half Mike Phillips took advantage of some rare possession in French territory to score a cheeky  try. The conversion failed, but Wales was, incredibly, very much in the game.

Late in the game, a penalty(I thought a harsh one) against Nicolas Mas gave Leigh Halfpenny( who was simply brave and adroit fielding all of the high balls lobbed at him) a chance to hit a penalty from midfield. The gutsy fullback's kick came just under the bar.  From another 1-2 meters in, it would have made it.

I think people watching this game have to be thinking a couple of things. Wales showed incredible heart by playing 3/4 of a semifinal a man down against a talented side, and coming THIS close to still winning. France, on the other hand, now becomes the first team with two losses in group play to ever make a RWC final. The French seemed unusually afraid to take the game by the scruff of the neck and make it their game. If Australia won ugly against the Springboks last weekend, this game was an even uglier win for France-but they are still going to the final to play the winner of Sunday's All-Blacks-Wallabies game.

Part of the reason that a sport like rugby is such a great game is that it does mirror life: you have to deal with setbacks, and that sometime, life is just not fair.  The Welsh were gallant losers. The French unsympathetic winners. I think that's the shortest way you can paraphrase this semi-final.
A Maori reaction to France's ugly win against Wales?


  1. Beautifully put ND. I think France have used up their 9 lives now in rugby world cup tournaments. How terrible that they are through to the final, you cannot lose twice and deserve to be number 1 or 2 in the world.

    But this is a tournament, I still believe (as a NZer of course) that the best team quite often does not get to take home Bill.

    Life is cruel sometimes, and yes, rugby - and all sport - mirrors this from time to time. That is why I love sport. Why it brings me such highs and such lows. It is drama at its most incandescent.

    Come on the All Blacks. Please, let it be this time for us. Please let the best team win this tournament.
    Ferdy @ruggerblogger

    ps- (for some reason, your blog will not let me comment signed in as ruggerblogger). Maybe there is a glitch in the system somewhere with permissions or something?


    XV de France : Le jour de gloire est arrivé ?
    La victoire de la France sur le Pays de Galles, en demi-finale de la Coupe du monde, lui ouvre les portes de la finale. Un jour qui pourrait être historique pour le rugby tricolore.
    Qui aurait pu croire après la défaite contre les Tonga que la France pourrait se hisser en finale de la Coupe du monde de rugby ? Une poignée de spécialistes, un clan de supporters acharnés, un petit groupe de visionnaires, une ou deux diseuses de bonnes aventures. Bref, pas grand monde. Mais finalement les Bleus sont là. Après avoir pratiqué un jeu flamboyant contre les Anglais en quart de finale, ils ont déjoué contre les Gallois pour s'imposer 9 à 8 et à 15 contre 14. Pas glorieux diront certains. Marc Lièvremont « s'en fout ». Ce serait faire la fine bouche que de lui donner tort.
    Le XV de France est en finale et c'est sans doute là l'essentiel. Bien sûr, il faudra encore progresser s'ils veulent s'installer sur le toit du monde. La première ligne a été moins incisive que d'habitude, la deuxième ligne a perdu des ballons en touche et les hommes de la troisième ligne ont paru émoussé. Dusautoir, Bonnaire et Harinordoquy ont manqué de nombreux plaquages qui auraient pu coûter cher à l'équipe. Derrière, ce ne fut pas mieux. Yachvili a semblé emprunté, Mermoz et Rougerie n'avaient pas leur tranchant habituel, Palisson a assuré sans éclat, Clerc a beaucoup défendu ne brillant pas dans les phases offensives, Médard a allumé un peu trop de chandelles. Le succès, les Bleus le doivent surtout au flegme presque britannique de Parra, qui a réussi ses buts mais aussi à une solidarité en défense.
    Un bon signe avant d'affronter un monstre en finale. Car que ce soit la Nouvelle-Zélande ou l'Australie, les hommes de Marc Lièvremont vont souffrir en défense. Et il faudra tenir. La solidarité affichée et le mental du groupe sont des atouts nouveaux sur lesquels les Bleus pourront s'appuyer. Mais ne nous voilons pas la face, pour gagner, il faudra développer du jeu. Le French Flair ? Les coéquipiers de Thierry Dusautoir devront le retrouver. Indispensable à un succès historique pour parachever la belle épopée des Bleus en Nouvelle-Zélande. Le jour de gloire est peut-être enfin arrivé pour le rugby tricolore. Il faut l'espérer. « Impossible n'est pas français » comme on le dit dans le royaume de l'ovalie.