Gat­land un­able to clear a fa­mil­iar fi­nal hur­dle

Last four re­mains limit for over­achiev­ing Welsh Lions coach plans to get even with All Blacks

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby World Cup - By Paul Hay­ward in Yoko­hama

The semi-fi­nal curse struck Wales again and Alun Wyn Jones, play­ing in his 142nd Test, was hid­ing noth­ing. “My face tells the story,” the great leader said. Af­ter three World Cup ex­its at the last-four stage, Wales must hope there are other such char­ac­ters com­ing up the line to keep hope alive.

If Jones is ap­proach­ing the end, Warren Gat­land, the coach, has only a bronze-medal match against the All Blacks be­fore he con­cludes his 12-year reign in Wales. His team were bored into sub­mis­sion in a match that was the di­a­met­ric op­po­site of Eng­land ver­sus New Zealand the night be­fore.

Gat­land has won three Six Na­tions Grand Slams in those dozen years and de­serves bet­ter than to leave his adopted home with a three-point loss, sealed with a 75thminute penalty.

His­tor­i­cally, Wales are over­achiev­ers in world rugby, but semi­fi­nals re­main their limit. They were crushed 49-6 by New Zealand in 1987 and lost 9-8 to France in 2011, fol­low­ing Sam War­bur­ton’s early red card. A poor per­for­mance against France in their quar­ter-fi­nal was omi­nous, but they played bet­ter against South Africa with­out em­ploy­ing the ball-in-hand skills that might have negated re­lent­less Spring­bok box-kick­ing.

As Gat­land said eu­phemisti­cally: “There wasn’t a lot of flow­ing rugby played.” He talked of an “arm-wres­tle” and “at­tri­tion”, with­out once deny­ing South Africa credit for reach­ing the fi­nal.

Jones, who had made a tear­ful video pro­fess­ing his love for Welsh rugby, is among four Welsh­men to have played in and lost two World Cup semis. The oth­ers are Jonathan Davies, Leigh Half­penny and Ge­orge North. Yet he re­mains the guid­ing light as Wales en­deav­our to keep their player pro­duc­tion line rolling in an age when Welsh rugby is strug­gling to com­pete fi­nan­cially.

Even in de­feat, Jones led the tra­di­tional Welsh salute to all four sides of the ground and told a Ja­panese re­porter: “Af­ter ev­ery game we’ve bowed to the four stands. We started in Ki­takyushu be­cause it’s not often you get 15,000 peo­ple to your train­ing ses­sion. We re­alised the de­sire the Ja­panese peo­ple had, with the wel­come they’d given us, and we wanted to dis­play our thanks.”

‘My first game in charge was against Eng­land and the dream was to play Eng­land in my last’

This was the mea­sure of the man, even as the score­board mea­sured an ago­nis­ingly nar­row loss. A match of 81 kicks from hand tested the pa­tience of even the most de­voted rugby fan and placed a fresh bur­den on Ed­die Jones’s Eng­land, who were in a dif­fer­ent league against the All Blacks. If Eng­land are un­able to see off the so­porific Spring­boks, then his­tory will damn them for miss­ing a gilded op­por­tu­nity and forc­ing the world to ac­knowl­edge cham­pi­ons who had their imag­i­na­tions sur­gi­cally re­moved for this match.

To row back from that for a mo­ment, South Africa were bet­ter than this against Ja­pan, and might not be so turgid in Satur­day’s fi­nal. Maybe the Bri­tish viewer is just ag­grieved at the loss of an An­glow­elsh fi­nale. “The All Blacks are prob­a­bly hurt­ing as much as we are,” Gat­land pointed out. But the loss of the dream fi­nal sad­dens Bri­tish rugby just as much.

“My first game in charge was against Eng­land and the dream was to play Eng­land in my last game,” he said. World Cups have their own pe­cu­liar dy­namic and each time those forces have stood in the way of Wales play­ing in a fi­nal.

“For me, my last game in charge of Wales against the All Blacks will be hugely mon­u­men­tal,” Gat­land said. “Apart from with the Lions, it’s the only team we haven’t beaten with Wales.”

The coach­ing road takes him to the Chiefs in Su­per Rugby, then the Lions again, where, he said, he will “try to have some re­venge from tonight’s game with South Africa. We weren’t able to do it tonight but maybe in a cou­ple of years with the Lions.” This shows you his rest­less na­ture. An hour af­ter a World Cup semi-fi­nal de­feat, he was al­ready work­ing out how to get even.

End of road: Warren Gat­land with cen­tre Jonathan Davies af­ter Wales’s de­feat

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