Wales Lick Their Rugby World Cup Wounds but Shouldn't Fell Injustice

Wales Lick Their Rugby World Cup Wounds but Shouldn't Fell Injustice

History is littered with great international teams who have stumbled when so close to the prize. New Zealand post-1987, the great Dutch footballers of the 1970s. And now Wales in 2011.

Hyperbolic? Perhaps a touch. But it would take a churlish man to concede that the Welsh have not been one of the best and brightest in New Zealand. And yet it is France who now contest the final.

It is a bitter irony that Wales' standout player, their young captain Sam Warburton, should be the man to take the fall.

The flanker, exemplary until the semi-finals, was adjudged by referee Alain Rolland to have tip tackled Vincent Clerc and was shown a red card.

Some will cry conspiracy and point to Rolland's French routes. This is the hurt looking for excuses. Rolland was over-zealous but not wholly incorrect as the letter of the law stands.

Many other officials would have shown a yellow, which would have been an inherently more sensible interpretation. Warburton can feel hard done by but not necessarily wronged.

And yet even with 14 men Wales looked the better side in many areas, with hunger, desire and invention.

Yet the areas Wales were below par in, the French took advantage. Les Blues lineout was functioning perfectly and when they needed to make their kicks they did.

In contrast, and surprisingly given Wales' history of great number 10s, James Hook missed two penalties in the first half, Stephen Jones a conversion in the second, and then failed to go for the drop goal with just under ten minutes to go. These, as much as the red card, were the differences.

It feels harsh to criticise Wales, especially after the tournament they've had, but such is the measure of champions, making those key moments count.

Had any of the kicks made it between the posts we would be lauding Warren Gatland's men for one of the greatest performances ever seen in a World Cup.

But sport is rarely fair, the winners not always deserved, and a distinctly ordinary French side, who have done just what was required and no more, are one game away from potentially being crowned champions. Such is life.

Wales have had their share of heartbreak, and pride and admiration in defeat over the years, but it will come as little comfort at the end of this tournament.

As Warren Gatland, the Wales coach said after the game, this is a young and exciting squad. They have the ability to dominate the Northern hemisphere over the coming years. How Warburton and the rest respond will be a key aspect of whether Gatland's ambition can be realised.

The Six Nations may not be the Webb Ellis Trophy, but it should be the next target. A Grand Slam would go some way to ease, but not heal, the pain of Auckland.


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