Heading into a remarkable fifth Six Nations clean sweep since 2005, Wales knew that even a loss could be enough to clinch the league title, if they could do enough to ensure they kept the French hunters out. distance in the array.
After a tumultuous seven-try, one red card and three yellow game, Wales had none of the results they wanted most and now have to wait for France’s late game against Scotland in Paris next Friday to see who will win the crown.
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France need a bonus points win over the Scots to match Wales’ 20 points at the top of the table and then it boils down to a points difference which is currently +61 for Wales and +41 for the French. If it also ends at level, the other splitter is scored by tryouts, and Wales lead that by five. They are therefore well placed, knowing that Scotland will have nothing but pride to play.
And, beware – in the not entirely unrealistic scenario of France scoring five tries and winning exactly 20 points, they and Wales will be tied on all three applicable accounts, and the title will be shared.
But back to Paris on Saturday night – and you wondered if maybe by the final whistle at 11 p.m. local time, the two head coaches Fabien Galthie and Wayne Pivac had made a socially distant mime of collapsing in the arms each other, kisses on each cheek, in the mutual admiration and empathy of their teams serving up a Six Nations lace-up rugby classic.
Not a little, apparently. There was fire behind Galthie’s windshield glasses. Speaking through a translator, he accused Wales of playing the game to ensure French lock Paul Willemse was kicked out for scratching his hand near the rower’s eye Wales forward Wyn Jones, on a 68th minute clearance – this made Willemse the third opposing striker to receive a red card against Wales in five matches in this league, and all for acts against an accessory in the event of a breakdown.
“I don’t think he [Willemse] deserves a heavy penalty, ”said Galthie, knowing that the entry-level ban for such contact is four weeks, rising to 12 weeks and possibly much longer if intentional. “If you watch the video there is clearly no contact or if there is contact it is very, very limited. This is absolutely not on purpose, and if you really look at the Welsh players it feels like they specialize in making sure the opponent gets a red card and their body language is clear enough.
Wayne Pivac followed Galthie in the post-match online press investigation and colorfully described the two coaching staffs screaming hoarse during the final minutes at a Stade de France so sadly empty of spectators, with a Paris locked by a coronavirus behind its walls. The New Zealander gave a measured response to Galthie’s claim. “I don’t really have a comment on this,” Pivac said. “The match officials are running the game and they get a lot of reruns. As you’ve probably seen, this went on for a while. They went through a process and that is what the officials are there to do.
Pivac was also asked how he assesses France’s chances of winning the title now – “I hope not!” he laughs. “Listen, this is difficult. It’s a very good French team as you saw today. When we got to a position in the game where we should have started, they just kept coming and going. They have a lot of great men and they come hard on the ball. Especially at home they’re a quality team and it’s going to be a tough demand for Scotland to come here and win the game. But we will look forward to it.
Galthie and captain Charles Ollivon for France, followed by Pivac, Welsh counterpart Ollivon Alun Wyn Jones and Wales flanker Josh Navidi were each asked to give sober judgments on a game played in front of a wide audience on terrestrial television and which demonstrated why investment house CVC recently bought a stake in Six Nations with a paper valuation of the company at £ 2.6 billion.
The drama of the last quarter alone was worth a few hundred million. In Navidi’s broken statements, ‘we should have seen the game come to an end’ and ‘discipline cost us’, there was a chaotic streak of events starting with Wales 27-20 and rushing towards goal French with a rolling maul.
The maul collapsed, giving Wales a penalty advantage as their supercharged wing Louis Rees Zammit completed a one-handed finish in the corner. England referee Luke Pearce and video manager Wayne Barnes, who had a busy night together, handled everything impressively, if at times a bit rushed. Josh Adams’ try when Wales led 27-17 appeared to be held back, while another French effort had Gael Fickou and Ollivon begging Pearce to take another look he waved. In the first quarter, a long time ago, Romain Taofifenua and Antoine Dupont’s trials for France were followed by Dan Biggar and Navidi, as Wales patiently built up phases and hit hard with great running angles. .
So, at 27-20, Pearce returned to the original offense and showed French pillar Mohamed Haouas a yellow card. “I was also expecting a penalty try,” Pivac said afterwards. He also admitted that Jones, the captain, could have chosen to mingle with 14 men under the posts which could have led Wales to the four-try bonus point they never got.
The ranking calculations were crucial, and not easy for the Welsh when they took Virimi Vakatawa, Gregory Alldritt, Dupont and friends from all angles flying. A Wales slam, or draw, would win the league title and a fine achievement after a 2020 horror, which was Pivac’s first year at the helm – although, in retrospect, in fact in line with the efforts of the running backs. Grand Slam and Wales World Cup finals. in 2019.
A loss for Wales meant a range of possibilities – if they could score four tries and lose by less than eight points, the two bonus points would do the title job.
In the event, Biggar threw a penalty for a 30-20 lead after the Hauoas yellow. But with around 20 minutes to go, Wales, for all their experience, couldn’t close the deal, not even when the imposing Willemse left the fray.
Taulupe Faletau and then Liam Williams went in the trash as Wales frankly panicked. Olivon’s try converted by Romain Ntamack tied Wales at 30-27. Pivac had replaced a cramped Biggar, who had been brilliant in his defense and cool playing. France’s blue waves continued to crash over the Welsh coasts and in added time full-back Brice Dulin wriggled for 32-30 and what Galthie called a ‘pool of happiness’.
Alun Wyn Jones, who had been set for a Welsh record-breaking fourth Grand Slam, said: “There are probably hundreds of things [we could have done differently at the end], but it’s probably too early. We will have to take out the magnifying glass and see it again.
“I played long enough to realize that the game not only changes from campaign to campaign or season to season, but from week to week. Sometimes those tapes aren’t the ones you put in the bins, they’re the ones you keep in the memory bank, and they last a lot longer than the ones you earn.