Funnily enough, the Mole sat through that entire game without thinking, “Awh gee whuz Smuddy, Awh-lund wud beat this Fraahnce team.” That came later.
For the most part, what was in his mind was that part in Good Will Hunting where our Bawstahn-born protagonist upbraids his Fields Medal-winning patron. You know the dialogue: “I’m sorry you can’t do this – I really am – because I wouldn’t have to f*ckin sit here and watch you fumble around and f*ck it up.” France were given a gift of a final place by Sam Warburton’s reckless tackle and Alain Rolland’s by-the-book ruling, and the Mole had to sit there and watch them fumble around and try their best to f*ck it up … for more than an hour. Tom, can you get us some coffee indeed.
Seriously. For more than an hour you’re playing against a 14-man team who couldn’t kick snow off a rope [just 1 successful kick from 5 attempts] and you sneak home by a point? That is absolutely f*cking abject.
Obviously the red card is a huge talking point. There’s a fairly incredible amount of irate spout coming out of Wales, and I have a degree of sympathy for them. You’d be gutted if any of your team’s players – and especially your captain – was sent off the pitch early in the game. There’s not a huge number of red cards in pro rugby, despite the fact that it’s pretty much the most violent team sport out there. Because of the strict positional structure [and in particular that required by set pieces, like the scrum], winning with 14 men is a huge ask.
However, if a team are stupid enough to continually give you the ball back, it becomes a little easier. The way for France to run out of that game comfortable winners was to KEEP THE BALL. Keep a hold of the pill. Take it through phase after phase after phase. Go round the corners and force the Welsh to make tackles – they’ve no openside, so the risk of turnovers is greatly reduced. Maul off lineouts and force the Welsh to commit fringers to stopping forward momentum. Keep the ball at the back of the scrum and drive it. Wales weren’t only down their openside, they were also down their first choice tighthead. The French had superiority at the scrum and they wasted it. Wasted it. What an inept performance. “Kick the ball away to the other team! If we have it, we might f*ck it up and lose!” Now that’s confidence.
It’s difficult to argue against the proposal that a full Welsh team would have won this game. Rhys Priestland was badly missed, as James Hook once more showed that he still lacks ‘the mental’ [thank you again, Guy Noves] of a top class outhalf. Stephen Jones was brought off the bench to steady the ship before Hook went into full meltdown, but it just didn’t pan out.
Jones has fallen from first choice outhalf to third choice within the last six months, and looked unsure of himself in a game of the highest tension. He’s not a particularly renowned drop-goal merchant [just 6 in his 103 Welsh tests compared to Wilkinson’s 36 from 91 tests, or ROG’s 15 in 116 tests] so while he might have gone for one, there’s no great reason to expect that it’d sail over.
To be honest though, so much of it comes down to the red card. It’s impossible to ignore. On seeing the tackle, the idea that Warburton could get a straight red immediately popped straight from the Mole’s [admittedly small] brain to his snout. It was hardly thought before it was out: “He could get a straight red for this.”
Did it wreck the game as a contest? Of course it didn’t: it finished 9-8, and a Welsh placekick with five minutes to go was just a foot short of going over the bar. It was a contest until the final whistle. Did it severely hamper the Welsh effort? Absolutely.
Was it deserved? Log your rage/support in Comments.