Irish referee Alain Rolland earned the wrath of the overwhelming majority of Welsh rugby fans – and many thousands in Ireland and throughout the Rugby world, by his decision to send off Welsh captain Sam Warburton in the World Cup semi-final defeat by France, especially as early as the 19th minute – it was decision which had a major effect on the outcome and in all probability deprived Wales of an appearance in the final, Up until now, Sam Warburton has had little to say about Rolland’s match changing decision. Today though he broke his silence in a lengthy interview with ‘The Daily Telegraph”.
“Looking back and looking at the rule book, it was the right decision,” he says. “That’s why I didn’t appeal afterwards and didn’t kick up a fuss about it. I didn’t have a leg to stand on!”
Neither did Clerc, unfortunately; an unintended pun from the hugely impressive and engaging Wales captain. It was shoulder and neck that hit the ground first. It looked horrible.
“I looked back at the screen,” Warburton says, “and it looked a lot uglier than it felt. It definitely wasn’t my intention for it to look like that. There’s footage of me in the Ireland game [the quarter-final] where I did the same to Ronan O’Gara and Stephen Ferris, where I lifted them both above waist height, but someone else came in and finished the tackle down to the ground so it was deemed a lot safer. I went into that tackle the same as a lot of other tackles; it’s just that it finished a lot uglier.”
How did the incident come about? : “We knew they had a move from the line-out where the scrum-half comes round,” he explains, “and I had to make a decision whether to take him or move to take the winger. It all depends on whether the six [blindside flanker Dan Lydiate] is available.
“I heard Dan say ‘Go’ and went into that tackle as if I was tackling a 19st second row. I was met with pretty much no resistance, so that was why he went up in the air.
I thought I’d drop him because I thought he was not far from the floor and then I could compete for the ball. I had the ball in my chest and thought ‘That’s a great turnover’. The next thing I was receiving an upper cut from a French second row.”
As the “Telegraph” interview suggests, on TV initially, Warburton’s sending-off was easily missed. “I walked over to Alain Rolland [the referee] and put my hands up,” he says. “The first thing I said was that it was not malicious.”
As he left the field he passed Wales’s kicking coach, Neil Jenkins. : “Jenks asked what I was doing,” Warburton says. “I said I was off. ‘Yellow?’ he asked. “No, red,” I told him. He was shocked and livid.
A lot of the other players didn’t realise it was red either, and watching the footage back neither did anybody on the TV.”
The Welsh captain remained in New Zealand after his team mates had left for home but on his return flight from Auckland to Brisbane there was another surprise in store. He was seated next to his victim.
“There were 10 planes leaving Auckland that day,” he says. “Say there were 50 business class seats on each, so that’s 500 seats I could have been sitting on – and I had to be sat next to Vincent Clerc.
“I was quite late getting on the plane, and I heard a few of the French players giggling. I put my bag in the overhead locker and looked to my right and there he was smirking. We shook hands, and he asked me for a massage! That was all that was spoken about the tackle.”