Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn’t feel sorry for the Welsh. Or anyone with a rugby rulebook.
Clearly playing the majority of the game with 14 men didn’t help Wales’s chances of winning, but neither did missing a whole range of very kickable points. Still though, the players who weren’t sent off – or James Hook – played admirably and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for them after their colossal effort. Here’s how the game unfolded through the medium of live betting odds:
Pre-match: After comprehensively outclassing Ireland, Wales are narrow 8/11 favourites for a place in the decider. After looking rampant for all of twenty minutes against England, France were less convincing and have to make do with the tag of outsiders.
10 mins: Wales make the stronger start to the game and take the lead with a James Hook penalty. We don’t know it at the time, but his early contribution is the last time he’ll trouble the scoreboard for the night. He pulls a John Terry to squander the chance of giving Wales a 6 point lead – a ‘John Terry’ on this occasion referring to slipping as you’re taking a crucial kick as opposed to shagging a team-mate’s partner. The Dragons strengthen their position as the favourites to progress whilst the French strengthen their position of rugby’s greatest enigma.
18 mins: The crucial moment in the game. Wales captain Sam Warbuton is sent off for what looks like a dangerous spear tackle, but on later viewing turns out to only be a dangerous dump tackle. Irish ref of a suspiciously French sounding name, Alain Rolland has no hesitation in sending him off, even though after multiple slow motion replays you could possibly make an argument that it wasn’t as bad as it may have looked in real time. After an outburst of twitter rage from players and pundits trying desperately to get followers, the rulebook is consulted and it turns out that yes – the suplex is illegal in rugby. Wales are down to 14 men and suddenly France are the hot favourites to win the game. France 3/10, Wales 9/4.
25-40 mins: France level the scores with a penalty, but on the half hour Wales have a chance to edge back in front. James Hook swings his banjo and misses the barn door and France rub smug their sense of superiority in the wounds by taking the lead coming up to half time courtesy of a Morgan Parra penalty. Going in for the half-time bollockings, its France 1/5 and Wales 4/1.
50 mins: Les Bleus start the second half like a team, determined to have their manager’s crap moustache ridiculed all the way to the final. Some early pressure pays off as Parra sticks another penalty over the bar and through the sticks to give France a 6 point lead. France start to dominate the Welsh line-out and it’s looking ominous for Wales as the part of the graph that looks a little bit like Simon Cowell’s head demonstrates.
56 mins: BUT WAIT! For the second time in a week, Mike Phillips dons his cloak of invisibility and runs in largely unnoticed and unbothered for a try. Stephen Jones continues the abysmal place-kicking where James Hook left off to miss the conversion, but there’s only a point in it and with commentators and pundits resorting to stereotypes, it’s assumed France will crumble under the pressure. The price on Wales tumbles like sales of records from Simon Cowell’s artists in the week after Christmas. They’re 8/5 and France are 1/2.
70 mins: Despite the disappointment of the missed conversion, a score will do it for Wales and they patiently work their way into drop goal territory, Sadly, just as they work the ball into the ideal position for a drop goal attempt, it’s discovered that there was a mistake during the James Hook substitution. Rather than sending on grizzled veteran, Stephen Jones, it appears Warren Gatland has sent on the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz and he’s cowering behind his pack hoping no-one shouts at him. There’s still one last chance as France infringe at the breakdown and Leigh ‘Thunderboot’ Halfpenny is handed a chance just inside the French half. Male vocal choirs up and down the principality give it a rest and hold their collective breaths.
75 mins onwards: Halfpenny’s kick falls agonisingly short (with the TV camera angle helping increase the agony), but there’s still time for Wales to make one last desperate drive for the winning score. Gatland’s men go through more phases than an insecure teenage girl seeking the acceptance of her peers and (very) gradually make their way towards drop goal territory. However, in a rare show of unity and mental strength, France drive them back and the Welsh challenge peters out with a knock on and Yachvilli booting the ball out of play – and quite possibly in the direction of Marc Lievremont’s bad moustache.
It leaves the rugby world with more questions than answers – namely ‘how could Rolland make that decision?’, ‘how are France in the final??’ and ‘will I bother getting up early next Sunday morning?’