Minister wades into red card furore

By Simon Winter

The moment the game changed: Wales' captain Sam Warburton is shown a red card.
Photo / Getty Images
The moment the game changed: Wales' captain Sam Warburton is shown a red card. Photo / Getty Images

A Welsh minister has waded into the red card controversy surrounding Wales' 9-8 loss to France in the first Rugby World Cup semi final at Eden Park last night.

Twenty-three-year-old Welsh captain Sam Warburton was given his marching orders by Irish referee Alain Rolland for an ugly 'spear tackle' in the 18th minute.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told Britain's Telegraph today that referee Rolland "wrecked" and "destroyed" last night's match.

Mr Jones claimed the decision "was a clumsy tackle and a yellow card - but not a red card. The game was destroyed from that point on".

His views echoed those of most Welsh fans, players and coaches who have united in fury and anger, after their team's final hopes were dashed.

Their anger was predictably directed at referee Rolland, with the decision, so early in the encounter, leaving Wales little chance of winning the match.

Coach Warren Gatland didn't hide his feelings, saying he felt "let down" by referee Rolland.

"Why spoil the semi-final with a red card? He's not a dirty player. I'm just gutted."

For his part Warburton said his red card offence was a tackle that went wrong.

"There was no intent.

"I went to compete for the ball after and I thought it was a normal tackle.

"Obviously I'm gutted with the red card but there was nothing malicious."

But French winger Vincent Clerc had a different view, saying Warburton deserved to go for his tackle.

"He put my feet up to my head and we have seen since the beginning of the competition, every time it has been penalised with a red card or yellow card.

"Regarding whether it is a fair sentence, I would say yes. But I feel no anger against him."

In England, The Telegraph's Mick Cleary was quick to declare his verdict on the red card, calling it "a ludicrously knee-jerk decision by Alain Rolland to dismiss Sam Warburton for a tip-tackle, one that completely ruined the game".

"Why didn't he wait and consider? He was too quick on the draw. Yellow, yes: red, no."

But Cleary's Telegraph colleague Mark Reason had a different view: "Anyone who plays the game will know that it was outrageously unjust. I was looking at the tackle through my binoculars and the first reaction was hard but fair... The trouble is that under the laws I am not sure that referee Alain Rolland had any option but to dismiss Warburton."

The decision was keenly felt by angry Welsh fans around the world who didn't take long to vent.

By halftime Rolland's Wikipedia page had been altered to describe the Irish whistleblower as "a fool who erroneously sent off Sam Warburton".

And outrage was quick to pour out of the Welsh fan forum at the Wales Online news website.

Kumari said: "Let's get this out of the way. Alain Rolland should never have been refereeing this game. Could it possibly get more biased than an Irish-French referee? Not only that, but one who has consistently made huge errors of magnificent proportions for the last 4 years? It's the most bizarre, ridiculous and unbelievable decision by the IRB to appoint this joker to the game."

Over 165 comments had flooded into nzherald.co.nz by 10am this morning, among them this from Mike: "At what stage did the powers that be think it was a good idea to put a half French referee in charge of the French semi final? Apparently by the letter of the law he was correct, at least that's what the other referees are saying, but what about the spirit of the game? He has ruined the game for the Welsh."

So lots of anger and opinion. Even with 14 men Wales dominated the match.

But France are in the final thanks in large part to a refereeing decision which will be remembered and talked about for a long time to come.

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