Moriarty: I thought high tackle had ended our World Cup hopes
Wales forward feared worst in semi-final No8 will emulate father Paul against Springboks
Rugby World Cup history will be made on Sunday when Ross Moriarty lines up for Wales against South Africa in their World Cup semi-final clash in Yokohama.
Thirty-two years ago, Moriarty’s father Paul and uncle Dick also played in a World Cup semi-final, against New Zealand in Brisbane, meaning it will be the first time that a father-and-son combination (not to mention an uncle, father and son combination) have made the last four of rugby’s showpiece event.
Moriarty is well aware of how close he came to missing out. How close Wales came to missing out.
Had referee Jaco Peyper reached for the red, rather than the yellow card after he went in high on Gael Fickou in Oita last Sunday, Moriarty might have been the villain of the piece rather than France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, who was eventually sent off.
The Dragons No8 had been on the pitch for only 90 seconds, having replaced the injured Josh Navidi, when the incident occurred. And when Peyper decided to review the incident with the help of the television match official, you could see Moriarty’s face turn white.
He was instantly transported back to 2011 and Sam Warburton’s dismissal 18 minutes into Wales’s semi-final against France. Surely history would not repeat itself?
“I was like: ‘F---’ – excuse my language,” Moriarty admitted yesterday when asked for his thoughts during those agonising few seconds. “I was just thinking, ‘Please, please don’t be a red’. I knew how bad that would be for the team. I’ve been in that situation before and it’s not a nice feeling.”
Moriarty, speaking to the media in Wales’s team hotel in Tokyo, insisted it was accidental. “I never go into a game intending to do anything that would get me a card or put the team at any risk of not winning. But it was definitely a big moment,” he said.
“I had only been on for 90 seconds and I was thinking to myself: ‘If he gives me a red card this is the end of me.’”
After Vahaamahina was sent off for an elbow to the jaw of Aaron Wainwright, who else but Moriarty should pop up with the game’s winning try.
He grinned at the memory of that effort yesterday. “I was running towards the ball and just thinking, ‘I can’t mess this up’,” he recalled. “I didn’t even want to reach out in case someone came from nowhere and kicked the ball out of my hands. So I just landed on my head first and got the ball under my chest to make sure no one could come in and get it.” the team hotel. Wales are training this morning at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground, named for the late Emperor Hirohito’s brother, who was apparently a big fan of rugby.
It was a sliding doors moment all right. And one of which Moriarty intends to take full advantage on Sunday.
Navidi’s injury has meant a bit of a reshuffle in the Wales squad with Cardiff Blues winger Owen Lane flying to Japan yesterday.
The selection of a back, rather than another back rower, is a vote of confidence in Moriarty. And now he wants to prove his coach’s faith is justified and, if possible, to go one step further than his father and uncle did in 1987.
Tony Gray’s team were hammered 49-6 by eventual winners New Zealand, the great John Kirwan and Buck Shelford both grabbing braces. But both Paul (who played No 8) and Dick (who captained Wales from the second row), will be there to urge him on.
“They are coming out on Thursday and will be staying till Monday, so that makes it extra special,” the Dragons No 8 said. “We all know rugby is quite a short career, but it’s going very fast now.
“I’m 26 next year. To be involved in a game like this is what I started playing the game for, even if I didn’t think much about it when I was younger.”
After tough pool games against Australia and Fiji, and a brutal quarter-final against France, there are some who believe the sheer physicality of South Africa, allied to what defence coach Shaun Edwards referred to yesterday as the Springboks’ “blowtorch speed on the edges”, may be too much for Wales.
Even their temperament has been called into question, with a video of France captain Guilhem Guirado emerging yesterday in which he tells his team in the dressing room after the match that Wales were “s----ing their pants” all game, so overwhelmed were they.
Moriarty dismissed those suggestions yesterday, insisting that Wales would relish the occasion. Having been given a second chance, he certainly will.
“I know what their forwards thrive on, which is being physical,” Moriarty said. “That’s what I thrive on as well. Some players go hiding when it gets tough, but I think I get better in those situations.”
Let-off: Ross Moriarty escaped with a yellow card for his tackle on Gael Fickou