The Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, was so incensed with what he felt was an unjust red card shown to his captain, Sam Warburton, early in the first half against France last weekend that he considered retaliating by cheating and ordering a prop to fake an injury so that scrums would have become uncontested.
Wales were immediately in trouble up front after Warburton’s dismissal for a dangerous tackle on the France wing Vincent Clerc, one man down while the tight-head prop Adam Jones had already been replaced after tearing a calf muscle. They used the centre Jamie Roberts as an eighth forward on attacking scrums.
“I know a lot has been spoken about the yellow, sorry red, card, but I just felt Alain Rolland [the referee] made an inappropriate decision,” said Gatland. “Referees get to the top because they make the right decisions and I thought that the significance of the occasion, a World Cup semi?final, meant he would take the circumstances and intent into account.
“After it [the red card] happened, we discussed in the [coaches’] box whether, given that we had already lost Adam, we should fake an injury to one of our other props to go to uncontested scrums. I made the decision that it was not the right thing to do morally.
“We could easily have done it just 25 minutes or so into the match but the spirit of rugby and the fact it was a World Cup semi-final meant it was not the right thing to do. That is why I believe Alain Rolland made the wrong decision. The right one would have been a yellow card and, given his experience, it was one I thought he would have made.”
Wales would have faced being expelled from the tournament had they gone ahead with a fake substitution and been rumbled while Gatland, given the three-year ban handed out to the former Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards for masterminding the Bloodgate affair in 2009, would have been in danger of receiving a long suspension and losing his job.
Uncontested scrums became a curse in club rugby a few seasons ago with a number of sides suspected of faking injuries to avoid taking a battering up front. It was remedied two seasons ago by the club game in England and France so that teams had to include an entire front row on their bench and faced forfeiting points if they went to uncontested scrums.
After Warburton’s dismissal the International Rugby Board said Rolland’s decision was correct according to the laws of the game. The BBC has reported that the IRB was considering a review of Gatland’s comments at today’s team announcement.
Gatland said Wales felt hollow after losing to France and has challenged his players this week to put the intense disappointment of missing out on the final behind them when they take on Australia for third place at Eden Park on Friday night.
“We feel empty and pretty unfulfilled after France and think the better team is not in the final,” said Gatland. “I have spoken to the players and said we can’t do anything about it; whatever we say or do will not change history. It will be a test of character but we have come to New Zealand and earned an enormous amount of respect from people here and that is difficult for any team to achieve.”
Wales have made three changes from the semi-final. Ryan Jones starts at No8 with Toby Faletau moving to open-side, Paul James takes over from the injured prop Jones and Bradley Davies replaces Alun Wyn Jones in the second row. James Hook continues at outside-half with Rhys Priestland failing to recover from a shoulder injury.
“James has the chance to show he is better than the performance he gave last Saturday,” said Gatland. “You cannot play well every game and he just has to get back on the horse. It shows how well Rhys Priestland has played here and he is a loss.”
Gatland will begin planning for the 2015 World Cup immediately he returns to Wales. “We do not have a huge playing base and you need to think about who will be around in 2015. That may mean making a couple of tough calls in the Six Nations, saying to players that, even though they may have a couple of years left, as they will not be around in 2015 they will make way.”
The Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips is joining Bayonne next month but does not anticipate his international career coming to an early end. “I have found the World Cup experience to be excellent,” he said. “I wanted to express myself here and I have done that.
“I’m portrayed a certain way in Wales but it is wrong because people do not know me. I hope the World Cup changes the perception of me. People back home may think I am something I am not. I am a rugby player and my family, friends and team-mates are the ones who matter.
“I have had great support from them. Other people’s opinions do not really matter. I hope they think of me as a top player who wants to go out there, enjoy it and perform as I always have done. We are all disappointed at missing out on the final and want to go out on a high note against Australia. We cannot feel sorry for ourselves or we will be whipped.”
Wales: Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); North, J Davies (both Scarlets), Roberts (Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Hook (Perpignan), Phillips (Bayonne); Jenkins (Blues, capt), Bennett, James (both Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), Charteris, Lydiate, Faletau (all Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys). Replacements: Burns (Dragons), Bevington, A-W Jones (both Ospreys), Powell (Sale), L Williams (Blues), S Jones, Scott Williams (both Scarlets).
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010