Wales have questioned the judgement of referee Alain Rolland in sending off captain Sam Warburton and pointed to it as the decisive action in the Test.
Wales were the better team throughout the Eden Park clash despite being reduced to 14 men as a result of Warburton’s 1th minute red card for what was adjudged to be a spear tackle.
However, coach Warren Gatland was still heavily critical of the decision. ‘It surprised me how quickly the referee made that decision. You’d think that an experienced referee would have consulted his touch judges first. I don’t dispute that he lifted the player, which deserved a yellow card, but he didn’t drive him into the ground,’ Gatland said.
‘We feel like our destiny of winning a World Cup semi-final was taken away by that decision. But I’m proud of how the guys responded in a situation where France should have been comfortable. To get that close was a massive effort.’
Warburton said he never intended to lift winger Vincent Clerc, explaining that his momentum and weight advantage combined to make for a punishing hit. ‘It wasn’t malicious. One minute I was getting up off the ground, the next I was in the stands. I’m gutted.’
Wales had plenty of possession in the closing stages and looked to be setting up a drop goal. Strangely veteran flyhalf Stephen Jones never looked prepared to risk one, consistently calling for the ball to be retained in the forwards. Gatland was non-committal when probed on this issue.
‘We didn’t really ever put ourselves in a good enough shape to do what we wanted to in that situation,’ he said. ‘We had to get more momentum at the gainline, which didn’t come.’
France coach Marc Lièvremont was typically animated despite another mediocre performance from his charges. ‘I don’t care about whether we were good or not. All that matters is that we are in a World Cup final in New Zealand,’ he said.
‘Strangely the numbers advantage seemed to affect us badly. We were expected to win from that position, but the players never controlled the ball like they should have. We made a lot of knock ons and poor decisions. But again, we’re in the final and have a chance to make things right before then.’
Lièvremont said he hoped to face the All Blacks in the final. ‘I’ve always been a lover of the All Blacks and to play against them in the final would be a dream come true. Our history against them at this tournament doesn’t matter, we’ve never beaten them in a final. I’d love to face them.’
By Ryan Vrede, at Eden Park.