Wales 20-19 France: Late Ross Moriarty try sends Wales to semis past 14-man France
A red card to France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina early in the second half for crazily and blatantly elbowing Wales' Aaron Wainwright in the head turned the Rugby World Cup quarter-final entirely. Wales to face either South Africa or Japan in their semi-final on Sunday October 27 in Yokohama
By Michael Cantillon at Oita Stadium
Last Updated: 01/05/21 3:54pm
Ross Moriarty's late converted try ensured Wales ultimately saw off 14-man France 20-19 to book a Rugby World Cup semi-final place at a fervent Oita Stadium on Sunday.
Les Bleus were forced to play over 30 minutes with 14 men after second row Sebastien Vahaamahina was red carded for a vicious elbow to the face of Aaron Wainwright at a maul nine minutes into the second period.
In an utterly dominant first-half display, tries from Vahaamahina, flanker Charles Ollivon and centre Virimi Vakatawa had put France in control but they led by just nine points at half-time - Aaron Wainwright's try keeping Wales in touch.
Jacques Brunel's side would not score again though and eventually could not keep a largely sub-par Wales out - Moriarty diving to ground the ball with just six minutes remaining.
Though France's start was sluggish - Gregory Alldritt dropping the kick-off - they settled and were over in the fifth minute when Vahaamahina scored from a close-range drive, after hooker Guilhem Guirado had been stopped just short following a driving maul.
Romain Ntamack hit the post with the conversion, but three minutes later he was lining up again with the tee after a sumptuous France move in midfield saw Vakatawa step past Josh Navidi and offload out of a Gareth Davies tackle to the on-rushing Ntamack. He found Antoine Dupont on his inside, before the scrum-half did likewise to Ollivon for the flanker to sprint to the line.
Four minutes later, Wales responded - completely against the run of play - when blindside Wainwright scored out of nothing as the frantic beginning to the Test continued. The ball popped loose out of a French ruck near their own 22, Wainwright claimed it and was quick off the mark to leave the surrounding French forwards behind him.
Wales registered three more points on 20 minutes via Dan Biggar off the tee, as Vahaamahina was penalised for a high tackle on Jake Ball, narrowing the gap to just two points - something unimaginable only 10 minutes previously.
It was brief respite for Wales, however, as replacement back-row Moriarty was sin-binned for a high tackle on Gael Fickou after 30 minutes. He was perhaps fortunate to avoid a red card as replays seemed to indicate contact with the cheek of the France midfielder initially.
Moments later, France had a third try as Vakatawa cut back inside Liam Williams and reached out to score after some stunning build-up play from wing Damian Penaud, who swerved inside both Biggar and Davies, before offloading to his centre.
France remained well on top for the remainder of Moriarty's sin-bin period, but failed to score again as Wales just kept them at bay; Ntamack hit the post with a penalty effort and a Guirado try was chalked off for an earlier knock-on.
Into the second half, Les Bleus began with similar vigour, turning down a penalty shot for a kick to the corner - from which disaster ensued for Brunel and co.
With an attacking maul well set and creeping forward on 49 minutes, second row Vahaamahina had a moment of madness to change the game, elbowing Wainwright in the head and receiving a red card, for which the forward could have no complaints.
Wales instantly hit onto the front-foot with Biggar kicking a penalty on 54 minutes, but then failed to press on their advantage, continually kicking ball away and losing chances with errors.
Indeed, it took until the 74th minute to score the winning try, as the Wales pack drove against the head at a five-metre scrum, Tomos Williams ripped the ball loose - something which survived a TMO review for a possible knock on - and though Tipuric was stopped short, Moriarty picked up to ground on the line a phase later.
Biggar's straightforward conversion gave Wales the single point lead they craved. France could not force themselves up the pitch and Wales were left to celebrate victory.
France wing Penaud was magnificent. His ability to glide past players, to offload, to take high balls, his lightning pace. What a player.
Fickou was a real standout for France too, while Vakatawa, Dupont and Huget demonstrated their real qualities. Ntamack is growing in the 10 shirt - having never even played there for his club Toulouse.
For Wales, without man of the match Wainwright, they would not have won the Test. He was tireless and grabbed an opportunist try. Gatland's side also never appear to panic or give up - but they were mightily fortunate to win here.
Starting with the obvious, Vahaamahina's actions were needless, a thing of pure lunacy and cost his team immeasurably.
France had one foot into the semi-finals but had it whipped away by the towering lock's elbow. The fact they held out so long, with Wales really creating very little ahead of their winner, will frustrate Les Bleus all the more.
Wales? This is as bad as they have played in two years. In their biggest game since the last World Cup, they failed to perform and struggled to put away a stretched France. Repeated aimless kicks, handling errors and poor decision-making meant they almost passed up the opportunity of their careers to make the last four.
But for the red card, they would almost certainly be going home. In fact, they very nearly were even with it.
Stat of the Test
6 - Since the start of 2018 France have lost six Tests in which they've been leading at half-time, more than any other side, including a loss against Wales at the 2019 Six Nations when they'd led by 16 points at the break. Shaky.#WALvFRA #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/NVN7A9CG3V— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) October 20, 2019