|Legs above ahead = Spear|
It seems that my crystal ball is broken, either that or it is linked to a parralell universe where just one of the following things didn't happen today in Auckland.
1. Stephen Jones was selected ahead of James Hook
2. Captain Sam wasn't sent off/didn't make 'that' tackle
3. James Hook had worn studs
4. It hadn't poured down before kick-off
5. Mike Phillips had managed to get under the posts
6. Wales's lineout had functioned
6. Leigh Halfpenny managed to sneak it over
7. Stephen Jones ever so slightly sliced his conversion
Because if any of those things had just gone the other way then Wales would be in the World Cup final next week. Alas, they are not.
The game ebbed and flowed for a short time, even if it was peppered with too much (poor) kicking. Then Hook nailed a penalty from the touchline, as he so often does, and set about to miss 3 more kickable chances and continue to kick Wales out of the game from hand. The nerves had not settled.
Up steps Captain Sam, Wales's hero throughout the tournament and does something that I beleive showed just how pumped up he was, a moment of emotion peeking out behind his otherwise professional demeanour that has served him and Wales so well in this fabulous World Cup. He picked up little Vincert Clerc, legs above the winger's head, lifted his left elbow and made the body movement of a spear tackle. Luckily for Clerc he did not follow through with the spear and the damage was far less dramatic than the Frenchmen - who lay prone for a few minutes - would have us believe Unluckily for Warburton (and the whole of Wales) the tackle was illegal under the rules of the game and was right under Alain Rolland's nose. Despite the protestations elsewhere the ex-Ireland scrum half had little choice but to go for the red card. Two years ago it might have been a yellow; 10 or 15 years ago it would have been a good tackle.
At this point France won the game. Perhaps Wales should have won anyway, due to the other mistakes and missed opportunities listed above, but the psychological lift that the French received from the extra man was evident in their fervent defence, improved scrum and destructive line out. Otherwise they offered nothing.
Onwards Wales charged, Lydiate, Wyn Jones and Charteris working themselves to a standstill, and 2/3rds of them not even finishing the game. Faletau had his best game in a Welsh shirt. Phillips was at his very best in scoring his try but Hook was the weak link. Lievremont's reverse psychology may just have paid off. Stephen Jones's introduction should have come sooner.
Many of the close calls and missed chances were within Wales's control and so I must conclude that Wales were beaten by the better team today; themselves. France were little more than a line of blue sponges, all willing the game to end with them in front. And, despite over 20 phases of trundling possession for the dead-on-their-feet 14 of Wales, it did.
What next for France? A thorough stuffing by either Australia or New Zealand some would suppose. What next for Wales? Considering the mental strength and capacity for good, swift, incisive rugby - and ignoring the seemingly meaningless play-off to come - I would hope a win against the Aussies in December and - with 3 games at home - a Six Nations championship. Either that or this was the very best of false dawns in living memory.
Either way I am thankful for what the Welsh team have given the rugby world in this World Cup. Heart, hope, determination, passion and skill. Hold your heads high boys, you've done us proud.