Wales pip France by a point in Oita to reach the World Cup semi-finals
Played – 98
Wales wins – 51
France wins – 44
Draws – 3
Did you know?
- Wales were trailing France by 12 points at one point in this quarter-final and completed their biggest comeback to win a World Cup match. They had never before overturned a deficit of more than ten at the RWC.
- Aaron Wainwright and Elliot Dee played their 14th Tests of 2019. No other players of any nation have played as many Tests this year.
- Alun Wyn Jones equalled Brian O’Driscoll’s caps mark of 141 Tests, meaning Richie McCaw (NZ, 148) and Sergio Parisse (Italy, 142) are the only players who have played more Internationals.
- The France front row of Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado and Rabah Slimani started together for the 16th time – a French record in the professional era.
- Bernard Le Roux and Sebastien Vahaamahina became the 18th different lock partnership selected by les Bleus since Rugby World Cup 2015.
In a nutshell
When these two sides met in the World Cup knockout stages eight years ago, there was one point in the final score and there was a red card during the match. History repeated itself here in Oita.
The French media had long talked of this team having one big performance in them and so it proved. They dominated large swathes of this game, even when reduced to 14 men after Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for elbowing Aaron Wainwright. Yet Wales got the crucial try in the last few minutes and move into the semi-finals.
Conceding two tries in eight minutes was not the way Wales would have wanted to begin this quarter-final, particularly having already lost Jonathan Davies from the starting line-up before kick-off because of a knee injury.
Some of Wales’ decision-making didn’t help their cause. Keeping the ball in play rather than kicking it off simply gave France the space to counter-attack. Wales were having to scramble fast as the likes of Virimi Vakatawa and Gael Fickou found holes, and Wales found themselves on the backfoot for much of the first half.
Dan Biggar chipped over the French early on but couldn’t regather and Antoine Dupont needed no second invitation to use the numbers he had on the blindside. It allowed France to pile the pressure on in Wales’ 22 and Biggar could only clear to six metres out when they secured possession.
From that lineout, Guilhem Guirado got close and then Vahaamahina used his sizable frame to touch down on the line.
A few minutes later Vakatawa broke through the Welsh defence, passed the ball inside to Romain Ntamack and quick hands to Antoine Dupont and then Charles Ollivon allowed the back-rower to run in under the posts. It was 12-0 with only eight minutes on the clock.
Wainwright helped to stem the flow when picking up the ball as it popped loose from a ruck and sprinting clear to score. With a conversion and penalty from Biggar the French lead was down to two points midway through the half.
The blue waves kept coming, though, and when Ross Moriarty – on for the injured Josh Navidi – was sin-binned for a high tackle on Fickou, France took advantage.
They went for a five-metre lineout and a few phases later neat interplay between Ntamack and Damian Penaud allowed Vakatawa to cut a sharp line inside, wrongfoot the Welsh defence and score.
France camped in the Welsh half for the last ten minutes of the first half and could have had more points. As it was, Wales were lucky to go in at the break only nine points behind. Still, they recovered from a 16-point deficit in Paris during the Six Nations.
The French started the second half well and were again dominating possession in the Welsh 22. Then came the moment of madness.
As France set the maul from a lineout, Vahaamahina first grabbed Wainwright around the neck – that resulted in a penalty. Then the TMO stepped in to highlight that the France lock had then struck Wainwright with an elbow to the face. Red card and France down to 14 – but could Wales take advantage?
Well, it took them a while but they got the crucial try eventually – after withstanding more French attacks. France had a scrum five metres from their own line in the 74th minute, Wales put on the pressure and Tomos Williams ripped the ball, it fell for Justin Tipuric, who got close to the line, then Moriarty got possession and touched down on the line from close range.
It required a TMO check to ensure the ball had not gone forward from the rip but the try stood and Biggar added the crucial conversion to give Wales the lead for the first time in the match.
Wales then closed out the game smartly. Maxime Medard kicked the ball dead as he looked to gain territory and from the ensuing scrum on halfway Wales got a penalty. They kicked for touch in the French 22 and managed to maintain possession until the gong sounded and then kicked the ball off to seal the win.
They will need to improve markedly in their next match, though, if they are to reach the last four.
Virimi Vakatawa was a menace for 80 minutes. He set up France’s second try, scored their third and constantly troubled Wales defenders. He made metres every time he had the ball – one particular carry in the second half from a scrum left Dan Biggar on his backside – and was resolute in defence himself when players ran down his channel.
He may have been on the losing side but he was a huge part of the reason France remained in this contest long after being reduced to 14 men.
Wales coach Warren Gatland: “Hats off to France, they were excellent and have definitely improved since the Six Nations. Credit to these players. I’m really proud of the fact they didn’t give up. They kept fighting and finding a way to get a result.
“We didn’t play our best but we showed great character and that’s testament to this group of men. Now we can be excited to look forward to a semi-final.”
France coach Jacques Brunel: “The red card – I don’t contest it. When you see the images it’s very clear. So I don’t have a problem with the decision. There are other decisions I’m not totally sure of. Especially the last try – I think a player pulled on the ball and then the ball went forward.
“But I want to stress the quality of this team. They showed not only courage because they had to make up the numerical disadvantage but also a lot of panache and had a lot of opportunities to score. So the outcome of the match is a difficult thing to accept. But I think the future for this team is very bright.”
Wales: Liam Williams; George North, Owen Watkin, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar. Gareth Davies (Tomos Williams 54); Wyn Jones (Rhys Carre 63), Ken Owens (Elliot Dee 76), Tom Francis (Dillon Lewis 63), Jake Ball (Adam Beard 63), Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi (Ross Moriarty 28).
Tries: Wainwright 12, Moriarty 74. Cons: Biggar 2. Pens: Biggar 2.
Yellow card: Moriarty 29.
France: Maxime Medard (Vincent Rattez 78); Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget; Romain Ntamack (Camille Lopez h-t), Antoine Dupont (Baptiste Serin 73); Jefferson Poirot (Cyril Baille 68), Guilhem Guirado (captain, Camille Chat 50), Rabah Slimani (Emerick Setiano 73), Bernard Le Roux (Louis Picamoles 66), Sebastien Vahaamahina, Wenceslas Lauret, Charles Ollivon, Gregorie Alldritt (Paul Gabrillagues 54).
Tries: Vahaamahina 5, Ollivon 8, Vakatawa 31. Cons: Ntamack 2.
Red card: Vahaamahina 49.
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