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)