Wales fight back from the brink to deny 14-man France
Vahaamahina’s red card proves crucial as Moriarty breaks French hearts at the last
Jaco Peyper awards Ross Moriarty’s try. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP
Wales are into the semi-finals of the World Cup but only after one of the crazier quarter-finals of modern times. With six minutes to go a 14-man France were threatening to wreck Warren Gatland’s final tournament as Wales head coach, only for a scrambled close-range try from replacement Ross Moriarty to propel his team into the last four.
Ultimately this was a breathless tale of beauty and the beast. At times France played some of the most beguiling rugby of the tournament only for their secondrow forward Sébastien Vahaamahina to ruin everything. Nine points ahead with an attacking scrum within range of the Wales line, the 27-year-old Clermont lock caught Aaron Wainwright with a deliberate and blatant elbow, leaving the referee Jaco Peyper no option but to show him a red card.
The last time Wales played France in a World Cup knock out fixture, a red card for Sam Warburton proved to be the game’s decisive moment. This was only the third sending-off in the latter stages of the tournament and again it turned the match, this time allowing Wales to fight another day.
It was scant reward for the first-half brilliance of French half-backs Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont who, in concert with Virimi Vakatawa and Damian Penaud, threatened to tear Wales to shreds. Ultimately it was to be in a losing cause but one glance at Guilhem Guirado during the anthems was enough to realise Wales could expect a proper contest. As the French captain gripped the team mascot’s shirt tightly enough to test the durability of the material, it was obvious Les Bleus were up for the challenge and inside the first eight minutes they had two tries on the board.
With Wales still adjusting to the occasion, the giant Vahaamahina rumbled over from close range and a sharp break from Vakatawa was then the catalyst for a second glorious score, the supporting Dupont putting the flanker Charles Ollivon away to score. Ntamack’s first conversion attempt had bounced off a post but he made no mistake with his second to put his side 12-0 in front.
Wales needed to wake up fast and enjoyed a much-needed boost when Guirado lost possession in contact and Wainwright swooped on the loose ball to race over from fully 40 metres. It was to prove only a temporary reprieve, with France suddenly starting to play like the Barbarians on acid.
Some of their running lines were a joy to behold and, with Moriarty in the sin-bin for a high tackle on Gaël Fickou only a minute after taking the field, it was no huge surprise when they extended their lead after 31 minutes. Vakatawa, following more neat passing from Ntamack and Penaud, surged over to score France’s third try and further points could easily have materialised shortly afterwards. A lovely arching outside break by Ntamack looked odds-on to conjure another try but the scrambling Welsh defence somehow survived.
There was to be another let-off when Ntamack hit the post again with a penalty attempt and, just before the interval, Welsh fans in the stadium were extremely glad advantage was being played when a long looping pass from Ken Owens was intercepted and Guirado momentarily thought he had scored his side’s fourth try.
The withdrawal of Ntamack at half-time along with Vahaamahina’s premature exit, however, gave Wales a lifeline. They should have scored when George North, with two unmarked men outside him, had a pass intercepted by Yoann Huget but, with the clock counting down, up popped Moriarty to save Wales’s bacon. - Guardian service