Wales coach Warren Gatland acknowledged that the “best team lost today” after a brain fade by France lock Sabastien Vahaamahina which was punished with a red car, cost his side victory in the quarterfinal against Wales in Oita on Sunday.
Wales won 20-19 after the winning converted try by Ross Moriarty was scored in the 75th minute.
It was a classic case where the best side lost while Wales will be left with a number of things to ponder before next week’s semi-final.
Vahaamahina was penalised for holding Wales flank Aaron Wainwright back around his neck in a ruck, but he can be clearly seen in the replay to also hit the Wales flank to the face with his elbow.
Before the red card in the 48th minute when France were leading 19-10, there was a scintillating first half where France ran the Wales team ragged with a combination of good support, confidence and speed and power.
The men from the valleys, on the other hand, were predictable but very structured, but even their forwards had a hard time containing the French pack.
The French forwards climbed into the rucks and made good possession for Wales from this facet difficult even when they had the possession.
Wales seldom kicked to find touch and Dan Biggar kept the ball in the field of play. They were obviously hoping for French mistakes, which there were – but as often there were counter attacks that put pressure on Wales.
France had the variety in their play that Wales either lacked or chose not to use as an option. France tackled like demons throughout and more so when down to 14 men, and after 73 minutes Wales had not looked like scoring except when they did. But then came their second try.
♦ France seemingly had the game in the bag at halftime at 19-10 and it should have been a bigger lead. There were a number of rucks which were not exploited near the Wales tryline; some free-kicks options to kick for the corner rather for the goal – one of which was after they had lost a man – but came to nothing; and two of Romain Ntamack’s kicks that struck the uprights.
Those factors and, of course the red card, were the difference.
♦ Wales are through to the semi-final but didn’t quite convince. Their forwards were good, their backs seldom used and structure rather than scoring opportunities marked a hardfought winning performance.
Their first try came off a huge gap left in the 12 minutes following a ruck which as exploited by Aaron Wainwright who ran 40 untouched to score.
The second came when, with just six minutes left on the clock, the seven-man France scrum five metres out was demolished and Wales replacement Roger Moriarty scored from an ensuing ruck for Biggar to clinch a lucky 20-19 win.
Wales (19) 19: Tries: Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty. Conversion: Dan Biggar (2). Penalty: Biggar (2).
France (10) 20: Tries: Sebastien Vahaamahina, Charles Ollivon, Virimi Vakatawa. Conversion: Romain Ntamack (2).