France 9-8 Wales, Rugby World Cup, October 15, 2011
Jones desperate to finish on a high
October 15, 2011
Ryan Jones is hoping that Wales can bounce back from their semi-final defeat by defeating the Aussies © Getty Images
Ryan Jones is hoping that Wales can put their semi-final heartbreak to one side for long enough to finish their Rugby World Cup campaign on a high by defeating Australia in Friday's third-place play-off.
The Welsh were forced to play 62 minutes of their last-four encounter with France on Saturday with just 14 men following the dismissal of captain Sam Warburton for a dangerous tackle on Les Bleus winger Vincent Clerc.
In spite of this, Warren Gatland's men still managed to score the only try of the game, through scrum-half Mike Phillips, and would have deservedly booked their place in the final had Stephen Jones managed to convert or Leigh Halfpenny not fallen short with a late penalty attempt.
Unsurprisingly, the nature of their 9-8 defeat in Auckland has left Wales' players heartbroken but Jones is calling on his team-mates to lift themselves as quickly as possible for their meeting with the Wallabies on Friday.
"The key for us now is to hold our heads up high. It would be lovely to go out with a win on Friday," the former captain said. "We have shown our character. We have to make sure we go out now and do ourselves justice."
Jones admitted, though, that he and his team-mates are still struggling to come to terms with the manner of the defeat, which the Ospreys back-row admitted was the most disappointing of his career.
"It's difficult to play 65 or so minutes with 14 men. It is incredibly difficult physically, and it's also hard emotionally," he said.
"I've had some fantastic highs and lows over my career, but it was pretty emotional at the end. All the boys were drained. I've never sat in a changing room like that before.
"But as a group of players, we've shown a lot of character at this World Cup. We came to New Zealand to do great things, and we were close to getting where we wanted to be, but it was taken away.
"I've had a fantastic journey, and I am grateful I have been able to contribute. It is well-documented that I was almost going home four weeks ago [due to injury].
"Our preparations were turned on their head after Sam's sending off, but I still thought we did enough to win the game. We dominated possession and territory with 14 men in the second half, but we could have done with the bounce of a ball.
"But it didn't happen and we cannot dwell on it. The history books will say we went out as losing semi-finalists. It's incredibly tough, and something some of us may never get to rectify."
Indeed, Jones will be 34 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. However, he feels that Wales' young guns will have learned much out of their agonising exit against the French.
"You can pick up so much from matches like these and times of adversity," he said. "There are a lot of youngsters here in key positions who certainly will be around at the next World Cup, and maybe the one after that. It bodes well for Welsh rugby.
"That has been the beauty of the squad at this World Cup. All the boys have played to their ability, and when that happens you get the results you need and reach the World Cup semi-finals.
"People gave everything, and the opportunities just weren't quite going over. As a player and as a team, you just have to keep creating those opportunities and hope and pray one goes over.
"We seem to have been on the wrong end of a few over the years, so it would have been nice for one to fall our way.
"France came with a game-plan and won the game. You can't take anything away from them, and you have to wish them all the best for the final."
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