Ross Moriarty went from villain to hero for Wales as Warren Gatland’s team beat 14-man France 20-19 to reach the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
His 74th-minute try shattered the hopes of a France side who had looked like clinging on for victory after Sebastien Vahaamahina saw red for a disgraceful elbow into the face of Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright.
France scored a pair of tries inside the opening eight minutes and led 19-10 at half-time, with replacement Moriarty having spent a costly 10 minutes in the sin bin.
But Vahaamahina’s moment of recklessness proved pivotal, with Wales eventually making their extra man count in a nail-biter – just as France did when beating the Red Dragons 9-8 in the 2011 semi-final at Eden Park.
This was a blood-and-thunder contest, with the emphasis on blood, plenty of which was spilled in a brutal contest.
France held a 19-10 lead when Vahaamahina made his shamed exit from the scene and had over 30 minutes to survive against a Wales side that beat them from 16-0 behind during this year’s Six Nations.
Defiance is rarely portrayed as the great strength in French rugby, yet this time it looked like winning the day until Moriarty barged over from close range and Dan Biggar booted the points that nudged Wales ahead for the first time.
— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) October 20, 2019
France had been terrific early on. Camped on the Wales line in the fifth minute, Jacques Brunel’s team were rewarded when Vahaamahina scurried over.
They then broke with devastating pace and incision to plunder a second try. The ball moved sharply through the hands of Virimi Vakatawa and Romain Ntamack, on to Antoine Dupont and finally to flanker Charles Ollivon, who charged in under the posts.
Wales, jolted by the loss of injured centre Jonathan Davies minutes before kick-off, were in disarray.
However, a French gift presented them with a route back into the contest, captain Guilhem Guirado conceding possession in midfield to allow Wainwright a clear, if long, run to the line.
The 22-year-old with the hipster moustache seized the moment, Biggar landed the conversion and kicked a 20th-minute penalty.
Wales were suddenly just two points adrift, but it was damage limitation time when Moriarty, on for the injured Josh Navidi, was sin-binned for a neck-high tackle on Gael Fickou.
Virimi Vakatawa struck a swift blow, forcing his way over after a lineout, with Damian Penaud feeding him the pass.
Wales were grateful to be just nine points behind at the break. The game was still there, more so when Vahaamahina was banished in the 49th minute. Referee Jaco Peyper had no alternative – the lock a condemned man once television evidence highlighted his crime.
France dug in, even at times threatening to extend their lead, but Wales knew they would get a chance at some stage.
Moriarty was in the right place at the right time. The Welsh dream remains alive.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 20, 2019
Wales need more than that
World Cup knockout games are all about the result, so Wales should be highly satisfied in one sense with their day’s work in Oita. But it was far from a complete performance from Gatland’s men, as he acknowledged, and they were indebted to familiar French folly.
Even with the extra man, Wales rarely looked like making it count. They kept knocking on the French door, only to be told the try-line was out and to feel free to come back later but it was probably out for the night.
The persistence eventually paid off, however, Moriarty lurching through a narrow gap to find that old friend when the door finally swung open. A repeat of this Wales showing in the semi-finals will almost certainly result in elimination, so Gatland has work to do this week, and having Davies fit for the next challenge would be a major boost.
Vahaamahina cost his country
Vahaamahina’s elbow on Wainwright looked bad at first glance, appalling in slow-motion, and it will look increasingly sickening to French eyes as it is replayed time and again in the coming days. Make no mistake, he cost his country a semi-final place with an act of contemptible thuggery. One swing, and you just knew France were out.
Key Opta facts
– Wales have won five games in a row at the Rugby World Cup for the first time in their history.
– Since the start of 2018, France have lost seven Test matches in which they have been leading at half-time, the most such defeats for any side in this time.
– Vahaamahina’s red card was the first in a World Cup knockout game since Sam Warburton’s against France in the 2011 semi-final.
– Moriarty is the third Wales player to score and be yellow carded in a Rugby World Cup match after both Colin Charvis and Sonny Parker did so in the same game against Canada in 2003.
– Ken Owens made 19 tackles against France, the second most by a hooker in a Rugby World Cup match after Uruguay’s German Kessler made 20 against Wales in this year’s pool stages.
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