Wales edge 14-man France in quarterfinal cliffhanger
WORLD CUP REPORT: Substitute Ross Moriarty snatched a late winner as Wales floored 14-man France in a breathless World Cup quarterfinal with echoes of 2011 on Sunday.
A moment of madness cost France in Oita after lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for elbowing Aaron Wainwright nine minutes after half-time with his side leading by nine points.
Wales, paced by 10 points from flyhalf Dan Biggar’s perfect boot, face either South Africa or hosts Japan in the semifinals next weekend after surviving a scare against the swashbuckling French.
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Still haunted by the memory of a stinging 8-9 semifinal loss to France eight years ago, the Six Nations champions looked decidedly uncomfortable until Vahaamahina’s rush of blood undid all of France’s hard work.
Defeat also brought the curtain down on France coach Jacques Brunel’s two-year spell in charge of the three-time World Cup finalists.
Vahaamahina had stunned the Welsh by bundling over from a lineout after just five minutes before France scored one of the tries of the tournament.
Roared on by chants of “Allez, Les Bleus!” flanker Charles Ollivon stormed through to complete a sweeping move involving Virimi Vakatawa, Romain Ntamack and scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
Back came Wales in an electrifying opening 12 minutes as flanker Wainwright pounced on a loose ruck on halfway to race clear for his first Test try.
Biggar slotted a penalty to bring the Six Nations champions to within two points.
But when a high tackle from substitute Ross Moriarty on Gael Fickou resulted in a yellow card, France made Wales pay as Damian Penaud released Vakatawa to grab France’s third try on the half-hour mark.
French playmaker Ntamack struck the post with a penalty just before the break but the pendulum swung towards Wales after Vahaamahina’s rush of blood.
Caught on camera recklessly swinging his elbow flush into Wainwright’s face, it was only ever going to result in a red card.
His dismissal came as an ironic twist as then Welsh captain Sam Warburton received an early red card for a dangerous tip tackle on Vincent Clerc in that 2011 semi-final in Auckland.
Wales, who had won seven of their last eight games against France, were still made to work for it in a nail-biting finish.
But just when France looked like holding out for a famous victory, Moriarty popped up after a monstrous Welsh scrum.
Making up for his earlier indiscretion, the replacement forward bulldozed over six minutes from time before Biggar kicked the conversion that broke French hearts.
Man of the match: Virimi Vakatawa was immense in the midfield. He broke through a number of tackles and scored a great try as well. However, the award goes to Wales flank Aaron Wainwright for his all-round display.
Moment of the match: Sebastien Vahaamahina getting a red card in the 49th minute for his elbow shot to Aaron Wainwright’s head. France were dominant before that and they had a nine-point lead.
Villain: Sebastien Vahaamahina for his stupid shot with the elbow to Aaron Wainwright’s head.
Tries: Wainwright, Moriarty
Cons: Biggar 2
Pens: Biggar 2
Tries: Vahaamahina, Ollivon, Vakatawa
Cons: Ntamack 2
Red Card: Sebastien Vahaamahina (France, 49 – foul play, elbow shot to the head)
Yellow Card: Ross Moriarty (Wales, 29 – foul play, high tackle)
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Cyril Baille, 17 Camille Chat, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Vincent Rattez.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)