Wales 20 France 19
OITA (Japan) • Wales are in the semi-finals – but only after one of the crazier Rugby World Cup quarter-finals of modern times. Ross Moriarty’s dramatic late try gave them a 20-19 victory over a battling France side reduced to 14 men for the final half hour yesterday.
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 Sebastien Vahaamahina to ruin everything.
They were 19-10 up when the lock, in a moment of madness, elbowed Aaron Wainwright in the face and was shown a straight red.
Though the French defended superbly, Welsh replacement No. 8 Moriarty, yellow-carded earlier for a high tackle, clinched it six minutes from time by grabbing a loose ball and forcing his way over.
After a long check by the television match official, the try was confirmed. Dan Biggar converted and Wales controlled the remaining minutes to sneak through.
It was a reversal of fortunes from 2011, when an early red card for Wales captain Sam Warburton for a spear tackle was key to France’s 9-8 semi-final win in Auckland.
In their other last-four appearance in 1987, Wales lost to New Zealand before Moriarty’s father Paul scored a try to earn them third place over Australia.
“I think the better team lost today,” conceded Wales coach Warren Gatland. “That red card was significant. Our boys don’t give up, though. It was a tough physical game and we kept plugging away.
“Tactically, France were really smart. I’m proud of the boys because other teams may have capitulated but we didn’t.”
France roared into a 12-0 lead after eight minutes, playing with pace, dynamism and total commitment.
Vahaamahina bundled over first before Damian Penaud set up the second by beating Liam Williams in an aerial duel, which very few players can manage, to set his backline moving and, eventually, sending flanker Charles Ollivon over.
Wales got on the scoreboard when Wainwright scooped up a dropped ball to gallop between the posts for his first international try.
The Six Nations Grand Slam winners, who suffered a pre-match blow when star centre Jonathan Davies aggravated his knee injury on Friday, lost another key man in No. 8 Josh Navidi.
And they rode their luck, with two first-half French kicks, an attempted conversion and penalty by fly-half Romain Ntamack, hitting the upright and bouncing clear.
French skipper Guilhem Guirado was bitterly disappointed.
“We weren’t really disorganised but we should have reacted differently. We didn’t show enough character because we had opportunities to stretch the lead,” he said. “The outcome of the match is difficult to accept.”