ROBIN DAVEY SAYS: Still all to play for at World Cup
2:40pm Tuesday 18th October 2011
2:40pm Tuesday 18th October 2011
EMOTIONS may still be raw and the sense of injustice still very strong, but the World Cup is definitely not over for Wales.
The tens of thousands of fans who went to the Millennium Stadium, sat in front of their televisions or travelled to New Zealand will still be grieving over what happened on that Auckland Saturday night.
They will feel there was no way Wales captain Sam Warburton should have been sent off for they will claim there was no malicious intent, that victim Vincent Clerc was not driven into the ground by the tackle and they will insist referee Alain Rolland acted too hastily.
They will further feel that the incident paled in comparison with what happened to Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll back in 2005 when he really was spear tackled in the first Test against the All Blacks in Christchurch.
And they will fail to understand how a country like France, so rich in its rugby culture, capable of playing such sublime rugby can reach the World Cup final by playing no rugby at all.
They will wonder how on earth a side which lost two group games, have completely fallen out with coach Marc Lievremont who only this weekend publicly called them spoilt brats for going out after the Wales game when he asked them not to, and how a side which failed to score a try yet conceded one against a side reduced to 14 men after just 18 minutes can possibly reach a World Cup final.
And many will be sad that a country famed for its flair, for it joie-de-vivre can so abandon the very foundations upon which their rugby has been built for decades yet still succeed where some of its glorious predecessors failed.
All of that may be true and so many are clearly still suffering from the fall-out of those events at Eden Park on Saturday, but life goes on as they say.
And there is still plenty of life left in Wales yet.
Coach Warren Gatland has worked a few minor miracles so far in this World Cup with his bold decisions and imaginative selections, he has encouraged Wales to go out and play and he has brought through a string of young players who are now perfectly capable of holding their own and more on the world stage.
Now he has to perform a different kind of operation. He has to get the team up for a third place play-off against Australia on Friday, instil a belief into the players again and tell them that this World Cup is not over.
For there is that third place to aim for, to succeed where five predecessors have failed and repeat the achievement of the very first Welsh World Cup team who finished third back in 1987.
Finishing third also has further implications. For if Wales do clinch that position by beating Australia they could retain the fourth place in the world rankings where they soared thanks to their achievements in New Zealand.
And that would almost guarantee a higher seeding position for the next World Cup in England in 2015 and avoid the possibility of a so-called group of death again, though Wales came out of this one well enough!
And so on to the player front and further reasons why there is no need to be that down about the semi-final, at least not when the dust settles.
For a host of young players have come through big time with a big future. Just look at the likes of Warburton, George North, Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Leigh Halfpenny, Jon Davies, Scott Williams and Lloyd Williams, all of whom are 23 or under while Jamie Roberts is only 24.
Six members of the starting XV were not even born when Wales last reached the World Cup semi-final in 1987. The future is indeed bright.
And just imagine the welcome this Wales squad will receive not just when they return home, but when they are next in action at the Millennium Stadium against Australia, in a repeat of Friday’s play-off, on December 3.
Where else in the world would the crowd watching the game on the big screen at home outnumber those watching it live in another major rugby country so far away?
It seems unbelievable that 61,543 could be at the Millennium Stadium looking in at the other side of the world while there were 2,914 fewer watching the match at Eden Park in New Zealand.
Never again let any misguided souls claim that rugby isn’t the national sport of Wales.
For those figures are truly astonishing, and how the Welsh players appreciate it, how it gives them a lift.
But it will be back to life in the goldfish bowl for all of them, they will be feted as heroes returning home, they won’t be able to step outside their front doors without being mobbed.
That’s the way it is in Wales though, a complete roller-coaster. Would we honestly want it any other way?
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