The French are through to their third RWC final. The Welsh are through to the play-off match for third and fourth; the match that no-one wants to play. The first half of an exact replica of the 1987 finals is complete.
The Welsh are crying "We were robbed". Perhaps they were, and perhaps they weren't. In this morning's Herald, Andrew Alderson evaluates Alain Rolland's red card call on Sam Warburton.
When Alain Rolland reached into his pocket in the 18th minute to bring out the red card for Welsh captain Sam Warburton, he was operating to the letter of the IRB's laws, but in doing so ruined a Rugby World Cup semifinal.
A game that promised so much turned into a 15 vs 14 battle of attrition, something a booing crowd struggled to accept or appreciate.
As for Warburton, his campaign is likely to be over, with the mandatory appearance in front of the judiciary - a devastating lesson for one of the players of the tournament. He was then submitted to the indignity of a camera thrust in his face for several minutes so the watching world could feel it too. A gut-wrenching moment; he did well to handle it with composure.
Yes, it was a foolish tackle. Yes, wing Vincent Clerc was upended. Yes, the lawbook says there is to be zero-tolerance under a memorandum last year. The memorandum told referees to enforce the law on tip tackles severely, yet confusingly also asked them to make an objective assessment of the overall circumstances of the tackle.
Rolland faced a decision based between three parameters under IRB law.
1. The player is lifted and then forced or "speared" into the ground. A red card should be issued.
2. The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player's safety. A red card should be issued.
3. The players is lifted with their head below horizontal and tackled to the ground. At a minimum a yellow card should be issued, with an ejection a possible result depending on the circumstances of the tackle.
So Warburton was always going to get at least a yellow card. However, the laws made it tough for his survival and encouraged Rolland to hunt for red. They say referees should not make their decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player. Instead it should be based on an objective assessment.
Therefore Rolland can't be blamed fully. The IRB laws say there is no room for discretion; no room to question intent. But all for what? Clerc got up fine yet the game disintegrated. Warburton had already started to pull out of the tackle as Clerc was travelling towards the ground. It was not a soft landing but one where Warburton looked to mitigate his actions.
Our first instinct when we saw the tackle was to mutter an oath. On the Sky commentary, Justin Marshall showed that he knew the law; he said something along the lines of "He's in trouble; this'll be a red" and he was right. Sam Warburton lifted and inverted Vincent Clerc, then let him go. Clerc fell heavily, on the back of his head and neck. Rolland had such a perfect view that he was able to make an instant decision, without reference to his assistants. In law, he made the only decision available to him under clause 2 above.
The law may be an ass, but in the absence of any amendment, it is the law, and referees have an obligation to rule as instructed. Wales was down to 14, and its inspirational captain was on the sideline.
France should have won easily. That they didn't is testimony to just what an average team they are in 2011, yet next Sunday night they will compete in the RWC final.
Wales fought bravely, but they will lament the lack of an accurate goalkicker. Seventeen points went begging through three missed penalties, two missed dropped goals and a missed conversion after Mike Phillips scored the only try in a lacklustre match. Even with just 14 men for 3/4 of the contest, Wales did enough to win, but came up one point, and one width of the upright short.
But they shouldn't blame Alain Rolland. In the professional world which is rugby in this era, he was just doing his job, according to Hoyle; or O'Brien.