Wales 8-9 France, Rugby World Cup, October 15, 2011
Gatland bemoans controversial red card
October 15, 2011
Tempers flare after Warburton's tackle on Clerc © Getty Images
Wales boss Warren Gatland criticised referee Alain Rolland for sending off his skipper Sam Warburton in the early stages of their World Cup semi-final loss to France.
The Wales head coach claimed referee Rolland's decision had ruined the semi-final while his assistant, Shaun Edwards, said it was a "travesty" that France had reached the final. Warburton was given his marching orders for a dangerous 'tip tackle' on wing Vincent Clerc inside the first quarter of a game that France eventually sneaked 9-8.
Gatland accused the France players of "showmanship" and questioned why Rolland made such a decisive call without consulting his touch judges. "I feel hollow. I feel our destiny was taken away from us in that minute," Gatland said. "We accept Sam has lifted him and it probably warrants a yellow card under the directions the referees are sent about players being lifted.
"But he lets him go, he doesn't drive him into the ground and the player is fine to carry on. What surprises me is that the reaction of the referee is instant.
"For an experienced referee to make such a quick decision in the semi-final of the World Cup...I thought an experienced referee at that stage would have said, 'Hang on a minute, I'll bring my two touchies in'.
"They would have had a chance to look at the screen, see the replay and perhaps made a cool judgement. That decision ruined the semi-final. The team that goes down to 14 men shouldn't really be in the competition.
"I felt our destiny for having a chance to make the final was taken away from us with the red card. In a fantastic tournament there have been one or two matches where the referee has not been consistent enough.
"No disrespect to France or their players, they didn't make the decision and they are in the final."
Asked whether the French players' reaction had played a part in Rolland's decision to brandish the red card, Gatland said: "There might have been some showmanship. The player stayed down for a while and everyone carried on...there was a bit of pushing and shoving afterwards.
"Sam is not that type of player - he is not malicious. He was against a very small winger and he has gone into the tackle and he has lifted him - we accept that but the tackle wasn't carried on.
"It wasn't driving the player into the ground. I can accept he lifted him but I cannot see how that can be a red card situation."
Edwards was struggling to control his temper and added: "It was a travesty for the competition because clearly the team who should be playing on Sunday night is not going to be. In times like this it is really important to keep your dignity and perhaps not say what you feel inside."
Wales arguably should still have won the game. They scored the only try of the match through Mike Phillips and missed four kicks at goal. James Hook failed twice in the first half, Stephen Jones missed a conversion and Leigh Halfpenny's long-range penalty slid under the crossbar.
Gatland said: "When you have two quality teams and someone goes down to 14 men, the other team at this level should win the game comfortably. We missed a couple of shots at goal, we missed a conversion.
"I can't be more proud of the guys for what they achieved when they were down to 14 men after 17 minutes. It was courageous what they did. They pushed France so close and gave themselves a chance to win the game."
Skipper Warburton has been inspirational for Wales throughout the tournament and post-match he was left to ponder what might have been had Rolland opted for a more lenient penalty. "Obviously I'm gutted about the red card but it was nothing malicious," said Warburton afterwards. "As soon as I hit him his body weight controlled what happened, I went to compete for the ball afterwards thinking it was a normal tackle and the next thing I know I was walking off.
"All the boys are gutted about the result but they showed courage and bravery throughout."
The defeat denied winger Shane Williams the chance to make his international swansong in a World Cup final, and he will now have to settle for the third-place play-off. But he said: "Any game you play for your country, you give it your all and want to play your best. We'd love to go home with a third place. Coming to the end of my career it'll probably be an emotional time.
"There's no bitterness, the side who played the best today won. We knew the France team turning up today would be a good France team - Parra at 10 had a great game, he bossed things. We wish them all the best in the final.
"We're absolutely devastated, we worked hard getting through the group and it was a great performance last week."
Meanwhile French coach Marc Lievremont was defiant post-match as he now faces a week to prepare his side for a World Cup final. "I don't care at all whether it was a good match or not, whether the Welsh deserve to be in the final, we have qualified for the final and that's all that counts," Lievremont said. "We didn't start the match very well, so we lost our confidence and very quickly we started to play with 15 against 14 and we remained very inhibited. However, we have won and that's the only thing that counts for me.
"Four months ago we had quite a lot of injured players and yet they have all played and we are now in the final, so I'm not going to brood or be unhappy just because the match was not the best match of all. I think we have to pay tribute to the Welsh team that played virtually all the match with 14 men against 15.
"They have been amazingly brave but the French team might have a guardian angel. I'm not really superstitious but we have had a very narrow escape, we're still here, we are in the final, we have not played the best and most spectacular rugby, but we're here.
"So we have to believe in ourselves, we have to believe in the fate of this team and they are going to prepare for the final and try to enjoy it as much as possible. We know we are extremely privileged and, of course, we want to play to win."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.