Wales coach Warren Gatland said that he was preparing his farewell speech as Wales trailed France with six minutes remaining in their World Cup quarter-final, but instead he can now work on his semi-final pep-talk after his team snatched a thrilling victory.
Gatland is stepping down following the World Cup after 12 years in charge and would have been hugely frustrated if his final game had been a defeat and a somewhat limp performance against a France team reduced to 14 men for the last 30 minutes.
“I have to say I was starting to think about what I’d be saying to TV, to you guys,” he told a news conference after Ross Moriarty’s converted 74th-dramatic try secured a 20-19 victory. “You start going through lots of different emotions. I thought France played exceptionally well. They’ve made a lot of progress in five months and I think the best team lost.”
The New Zealander said he was relieved to get to halftime at 19-10 down after France had been full of attacking verve in the first period.
“I thought it was critical when we were down to 14 men and Romain Ntamack hit the post” with a penalty, he said. “If they’d gone to the corner and got some success that could have been game over. We needed halftime to just consolidate things, so we could then get some clear messages to the players.”
Gatland said that one message was that they had to score first, which they did via a Dan Biggar penalty in the 54th minute, but by then the nature of the game had changed with the red card for French lock Sebastien Vamihaamahina for elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the face.
France, though, defended superbly and were still leading 19-13 as the clock ticked down.
Meanwhile, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika quit yesterday after their quarter-final exit against England on Saturday, drawing the curtain on five years in charge that started strongly, but ended in criticism and disappointment.
The 52-year-old, whose contract expires at the end of the year, had previously indicated he would not reapply for his job if they failed to win the tournament.
“I put my chips in earlier in the year, I told people: ‘No win, no play,’” he told reporters in Oita. “So, I’m the type of man who is always going to back what he says and I knew from the final whistle, but I just wanted to give it that little bit of time to settle down, talk to my people and then make it clear.”
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