Recently by Lauren Murphy
Wales are out of contention for the World Cup. By one lousy point.
Among all the controversy and heartache there is one question that is resurfacing time and time again, which is 'What if?'
What if Sam Warburton had never tackled Vincent Clerc?
What if the ref had been Kinder?
What if Adam Jones had remained fit?
What if James Hook's kicks had been true?
What if Stephen Jones' conversion hadn't hit the posts?
What if Leigh Halfpenny's kick had gained a smidge more momentum?
Though it would be nice to blame Alain Rolland's decision to send Sam Warburton to warm the bench for an hour, neither that, nor any of the above factors lost Wales the match alone, it was all of them plus one factor more important than any other: They lost hope.
Wales managed, skipperless and with a hole in their blindside for over an hour without conceding a try, such was the strength of their defence and the weakness of France's attack. They proved, turn after turn that they had the skills and the power to win not only this, but the final. But for all their cool, calm defence, they just didn't back themselves to go on the attack. Almost every bit of possession was kicked away, like they were scared of losing it so took the problem out of their hands.
Twice, they fully turned on the attack, twice they headed into France's 22 with purpose. The first time, Mike Phillips scored, but the second, in the dying minutes of the game both proved why they should win and why it's probably better for Welsh nerves that they didn't.
Twenty-six heartstopping phases were worked through, and at least twenty of those were passed to a forward. The ball was kept low, kept slow and never did they try to breach rather than batter the blue line before them. They didn't back themselves to take that chance and tried to play the cynical game, forcing an error from France that backfired spectacularly when they knocked on themselves once the clock turned red.
Talk, for a long time, will be about the Ref's decision to send off Capten Sam, but his subsequent three week ban backs that decision to the hilt. Others may have got away with it and Warburton may have meant no malice but it happened. Sam may regret that tackle for the rest of his life but he led the other 14 men well enough that they were able to steer the ship without him. Sadly, they just missed that spark of confidence that he instilled that could put their upper hand on the scoreboard.
This particular merry band of Welshmen can still hold their head high. They will return to Wales at worst 4th in the competition of 20 teams. Going into this competition, there was hope rather than true belief they would come out of the pool stage so that achievement cannot be undermined by them missing out so narrowly on taking it all the way.
France carry Northern Hemisphere hopes to the final, we'll be behind them all the way, but even the most impartial observer (including their own coach in fact) will be watching the game feeling that it should have been Wales. And if it had been, what if...
(Originally posted at www.manpilez.com)
Two out of Wales four pool matches are now behind us and though our nerves, or mine at least, are in tatters and we're only third in pool behind South Africa and Samoa, there's a lot to take heart from.
Today's test against Samoa was as brutal and demanding as the one where our boys pushed the Springboks almost to the limit but this time not only did they keep their cool, but they pushed forward, edging a win through perseverance despite ending the first half behind.
This wasn't the incredible yet ultimately fruitless performance we saw last week, this was a little rougher around the edges but thanks to old twinkletoes Shane Williams, it was Wales that got the all important 1 in the win column on the table.That said, in comparison to the other nations playing today, we didn't give away nearly as many penalties and unlike past performances, we did take any and all of the opportunities we found against what at times seemed like a swarm of blue shirts.
Samoa are an intense and physical side that, along with South Africa are one of the most demanding sides to beat so though we far from ran rings around them, any win against them can be classed as a major achievement.
In terms of individual performances, Shane Williams once again saved the day as Jonathan Davies fumbled with the ball on the wing, Sam Warburton led from all over the pitch and Alun Wyn Jones put in a preternatural amount of graft. It was fantastic to see Gethin Jenkins not only back but coming straight into action as if he was never away. My only complaint would be Andy Powell, who regained his crown as the knock-on king just when we were needing composure.
Captain Sam Warburton said in his post match talk that though there's still a lot of hard work to do if Wales are to make it out of the pool, that stands us in better staid in the next rounds compared to those who have cruised through weaker pools. This, along with the tenacity of the side out there proves that if any Welsh side has had the right attitude about a World cup it is this one.
This is a side on the way up, so any niggles from today's outing can and should be forgiven as they find their way, onwards and upwards.
Two wins on the bounce has seemed like the holy grail of late, with our boys in red searching in vain for consistency and cohesion like they were lost in a desert, Welsh rugby has been a desolate pace for some time.
Today, for the first half an hour it looked like more of the same. There were missed passes, spilled balls and frankly the worst line outs I've ever seen. It got so bad I was watching through my fingers.
Thankfully, Wales had an ace up their sleeve: Alun Wyn Jones. And another: James Hook, and yet another: George North.
Between them, they created some magic moments that not only showed us what this incarnation of Wales can do, but proved it by putting crucial points on the board.
The big turning point came towards the end of the first half, when a particularly scrappy phase of play gave rise to a turnover ball that was converted, thanks to a fantastic bit of support by Alun Wyn 'On a Mission' Jones, to a try for Andy Powell that was joyous to the point of hilariousness. Less than two minutes after James Hook turned those five points to seven, a truly fearless run by George North saw AWJ's aforementioned mission accomplished with a flourish .
After that, the game completely shifted. Wales seemed to step up a gear and Argentina seemed rattled. But that's not to say that Wales suddenly started looking like World cup Winners. It took a while for the line out to finally sort itself out properly, there were still a few spilled balls and if I'm honest, Argentina were visibly game rusty.
On the whole though, Wales finally seemed to be taking on board what many us have been creaming from the stands for a good year, they took chances when they were presented, they created chances from slow play and they took any points they could and they wee ruthless, a fact proven that at 25-13 up at 81 minutes, where most stand-offs would have kicked a penalty ball out and been happy with their lot, James Hook claimed another three points with a fantastic long kick.
What was heartening, was seeing how the young guns got on in the second half, both Justin Tipuric and Lloyd Williams came off the bench for their inaugural caps in the second half and both made a mark and blended well into a team finally showing signs of true cohesion.
After a good 18 months of pain, it's easy to get excited by achieving two out of three wins on the road to the World Cup, but I truly think we're only seeing glimpses at what is to come. The question is, will we see it in three weeks time when our boys take on the Springboks? One thing is for sure, South Africa will not be as forgiving of their current trend of starting messily and tidying up later.
Lets just hope this run of success really is the oasis and not just a luck-fueled mirage.
Well.. that was actually alright, wasn't it?
If you forget about the middle half an hour, which actually had a few positives (though we need to completely wipe Shane running into Jamie to avoid Manu Tuilagi from our memories), Wales played a good game today.
As one of my fellow bloggers pointed out, were it not for the reliability of Jonny Wilkinson's boot, the boys in red may well have been celebrating come full time, and they would actually have deserved it.
There were a lot of mistakes, spilled balls and squandered opportunities flying around from both sides, but at times, England were rattled. Enough to concede three tries, two from relative debutante George North, who along with Caretaker Captain Sam Warburton almost certainly booked plane tickets today. Add to that a trademark Shane Williams moment around the hour and this was a loss Wales could almost be pleased with.
This was not the Wales that fell at the English sword at the Six Nations, this was a tenacious Wales with the confidence to push forward even when completely surrounded by black shirts.
Next week, Wales will be rocking the black shirts themselves, and if today's anything to go by, they could be rocking a now shaken England.
It's the days of big games between Wales and England that I feel the full effect of being a borderlands girl. To most fans of Welsh Rugby it's beat the English or die trying, but me, and I'm going to whisper this, I can't help wanting both sides to do well.
Maybe it's because I've been caught up in the England PR storm of the last week or so, where the back pages, usually barren of rugby bar a cursory mention, have started to swell with images of the players training in blazing sunshine that I'm feeling a bit warmer to the Saes. Or maybe it's the overwhelming sense of hope radiating from the England camp.
You've got to give it to them, they've got the talent in the squad, but more importantly, they've got the belief to take it, if not all the way to the final, then as near as dammit.
Sadly, this is exactly where Wales are lacking at the moment. Looking at the team sheet for this afternoon anyone can see that the talent is there in spades. However, if you listen to an interview with Warren Gatland or one of the players, their bets are so hedged as to resemble a maze and the nearest thing to confidence you can get is 'We're aiming to get to the quarter final'.
I'm sorry boys, but you've got to give us a bit more than that! Us fans simply can't back a team that's barely backing itself.
I'll be watching events unfold at Twickenham this afternoon with some trepidation. My heart is hoping this could be the game when things start to fall back into place for Wales, to bring that spirit back, but my head knows that in terms of spirit, at the moment, England have the edge.