Wales vs France – Rugby World Cup 2019 quarter-final: Ross Moriarty turns hero after villain Sebastien Vahaamahina costs Les Bleus

Warren Gatland’s dream of a Rugby World Cup-winning finale with Wales lives on after his team made it through to the Japan semi-finals with a gritty and thrilling comeback win over 14-man France.

This tournament is Gatland’s last in charge and it looked like it would end in disaster when Les Bleus roared into an early lead, but a red card for Sebastien Vahaamahina ultimately proved crucial.

Even with a man advantage Wales struggled to get on top, but they did so in the end by the narrowest of margins in what was World Cup rugby at its absolute best.

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It had everyone watching on their edge of the seats as for long periods it looked like Wales would suffer heartbreak and France – against all the odds – would triumph.

In the end, Gatland’s men prevailed to set-up a last-four clash with either South Africa or hosts Japan and France – as they always seem to do – managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


Wales vs France player ratings – Rugby World Cup quarter-final





1/31 Wales vs France player ratings – Rugby World Cup quarter-final

2/31 Liam Williams – 6

3/31 George North – 6

4/31 Owen Watkin – 5

5/31 Hadleigh Parkes – 5

6/31 Josh Adams – 6

7/31 Dan Biggar – 6

8/31 Gareth Davies – 5

9/31 Wyn Jones – 6

10/31 Ken Owens – 6

11/31 Tomas Francis – 5

12/31 Jake Ball – 6

13/31 Alun Wyn Jones – 6

14/31 Aaron Wainwright – 7

15/31 Justin Tipuric – 6

16/31 Josh Navidi – 5

17/31 Maxime Medard – 6

18/31 Damian Penaud – 7

19/31 Virimi Vakatawa – 8

20/31 Gael Fickou – 8

21/31 Yoann Huget – 6

22/31 Romain Ntamack – 8

23/31 Antoine Dupont – 7

24/31 Jefferson Poirot – 7

25/31 Guilhem Guirado – 6

26/31 Rabah Slimani – 7

27/31 Bernard le Roux – 6

28/31 Sebastien Vahaamahina – 4

29/31 Wenceslas Lauret – 6

30/31 Charles Ollivon – 7

31/31 Gregory Alldritt – 7

1/31 Wales vs France player ratings – Rugby World Cup quarter-final

2/31 Liam Williams – 6

3/31 George North – 6

4/31 Owen Watkin – 5

5/31 Hadleigh Parkes – 5

6/31 Josh Adams – 6

7/31 Dan Biggar – 6

8/31 Gareth Davies – 5

9/31 Wyn Jones – 6

10/31 Ken Owens – 6

11/31 Tomas Francis – 5

12/31 Jake Ball – 6

13/31 Alun Wyn Jones – 6

14/31 Aaron Wainwright – 7

15/31 Justin Tipuric – 6

16/31 Josh Navidi – 5

17/31 Maxime Medard – 6

18/31 Damian Penaud – 7

19/31 Virimi Vakatawa – 8

20/31 Gael Fickou – 8

21/31 Yoann Huget – 6

22/31 Romain Ntamack – 8

23/31 Antoine Dupont – 7

24/31 Jefferson Poirot – 7

25/31 Guilhem Guirado – 6

26/31 Rabah Slimani – 7

27/31 Bernard le Roux – 6

28/31 Sebastien Vahaamahina – 4

29/31 Wenceslas Lauret – 6

30/31 Charles Ollivon – 7

31/31 Gregory Alldritt – 7

Ross Moriarty’s late try was ultimately the difference between the teams as he crashed over for the match-winning effort. 

Wales were handed the most devastating of pre-match blows with Jonathan Davies – one of Gatland’s most important players – ruled out of the game before kick-off. Gatland and his coaching staff had insisted all week the vital centre was fit to start, but the Welsh camp said he aggravated the knee injury he suffered against Fiji in Saturday’s captain’s run session. He was replaced at outside centre by Owen Watkin with Leigh Halfpenny coming in on the bench. As Wales warmed up, Davies watched on from the bench pensive and motionless. Without him, his team started awfully. 

France’s Gregory Alldritt dropped the kick-off, but despite a sensational early Justin Tipuric turnover Wales couldn’t withstand pressure from Les Bleus and Vahaamahina crashed over.

Romain Ntamack’s conversion hit the post, but Les Bleus were on fire.

The hot stepping and superb Virimi Vakatawa cut past Josh Navidi and sent his team away. Ntamack and Antoine Dupont were in support, with the latter giving the final pass to Charles Ollivon who raced clear. It made it two French tries in the first eight minutes and this time Ntamack couldn’t miss the conversion from between the posts.

The last thing Wales needed was to give their opponents – a side who play on confidence – an early sniff, but that is exactly what they did.

France – as they almost always seem to do – then went from hero to zero. There was no danger for them near the halfway line, but Jake Ball’s tackle on Guilhem Guirado saw the ball spill loose. Wales flanker and the official man of the match Aaron Wainwright picked up and showed exceptional pace to canter to the line for his first international try. Dan Biggar converted. It was an absolute gift for Wales and Biggar then kicked a simple penalty.

Navidi had already been down for treatment and when he did so for a second time, he was forced off and replaced by Moriarty whose first involvement was to tackle Gael Fickou high.

Moriarty – rightly – immediately went straight to the sin bin. It was a crucial moment.

With a man advantage, France won a line-out from where Damian Penaud came off his wing and combined nicely with Ntamack. The excellent Vakatawa was the beneficiary and Ntamack again kicked the goal. France were now rampant. They spread the ball left and right and only desperate Welsh defence – which included a George North tackle on Fickou – stopped another try.

Wales would have been delighted to escape without conceding further as Ntamack again kicked against the post. A 19-10 half-time lead should have been bigger from a French perspective. Ntamack didn’t appear for the second half after being smashed by Biggar just before the break.

Then came the game-changing moment.

With France on the attack, Vahaamahina grappled with Wainwright in a rolling maul. The French lock inexplicably chose to elbow the young Wales flanker in the head and was sent off.

It was a moment of madness from the man who had thrown the long pass which was intercepted by North in Wales’ comeback victory over the French in the Six Nations in February.

It gave Gatland’s men a sniff and Biggar kicked a penalty to narrow the gap to six points.

Still, Wales couldn’t retain the ball for long enough and a resilient France stayed in the contest as the game entered the final quarter and turned into a kicking battle.

There were too many mistakes from the men in red as they turned over possession to allow France a rest bite from defending. It was summed up by Yoann Huget stopping North from passing on when Wales had men in space out wide. All of a sudden we were into the final 10 minutes.

France were still six to the good. Cries of ‘Allez Les Bleus’ rang around Oita Stadium.

Gatland unloaded his bench in search of impetus and replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams had an impact with one break, but the outstanding Vakatawa kept on going.

He poleaxed Biggar with one monstrous carry as the clock ticked towards 80.

Wales carried forward again and again they spilled the ball, this time replacement prop Dillon Lewis the guilty party. With the game in the balance, there was the remarkable sight of fans leaving Oita Stadium early to avoid the travel chaos which has blighted the quarter-finals here.

Those who left will surely regret it.

With France having a scrum on their own , Williams ripped possession from Les Bleus and the ball popped up to Tipuric. He was stopped short, but Moriarty went over from the next phase.

Referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Marius Jonker checked to see if the ball had gone forward to Tipuric, but the try stood and Biggar converted. From there Wales saw out the game and breathed a huge sigh of relief as their bench made a big impact. Biggar ended the game by booting the ball into row Z and punched the air with delight. For Wales it was ecstasy and the semi-finals. For France, it was yet more heartbreak. For the neutral it was the end of a bona fide World Cup classic.

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