Wales '160 minutes from history', says Gatland

Warren Gatland (AFP)
Warren Gatland (AFP)

Oita - Wales coach Warren Gatland challenged his players to write history after dodging a bullet in a pulsating World Cup quarter-final against 14-man France.

The Six Nations champions hit back from a nine-point half-time deficit to reach the last four with a 20-19 victory Sunday, helped in large part by lock Sebastien Vahaamahina's red card nine minutes after the interval in Oita.

But Gatland, who is set to bring the curtain down on his successful 12-year spell as coach after the tournament, insisted that the countdown was on for his side to achieve something no Welsh team has ever done before -- winning the World Cup.

"We're excited about being where we are now," said the New Zealander, whose team face South Africa in next week's semi-finals after the Springboks beat hosts Japan.

"If you're in a semi-final of a World Cup (captain) Alun Wyn (Jones) has been saying 'it's 240 minutes to do something (you will remember) for the rest of your life' -- well, we're down to 160 now," added Gatland, who has led Wales to four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, since taking charge in 2007.

"If you can't get excited about that, then nothing will excite you. We'll relish that opportunity. As young men, they've got a chance to create something really special."

Gatland admitted, however, that he had been hastily preparing a farewell speech before substitute Ross Moriarty's late try, converted by Dan Biggar, broke French hearts.

"You start going through lots of different emotions -- what I'm going to say in here, what I'm going to be saying on the TV," he smiled.

"You're thinking of those potential scenarios. Definitely went through a lot of emotions today, but I'm really proud of how we hung in there."

Wales came into the quarter-final desperate to atone for their traumatic 9-8 semi-final defeat by France eight years ago.

That encounter in Auckland also featured a red card, with then Welsh captain Sam Warburton sent off early for a tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.

"It's ironic that the last time we met in a World Cup was very similar in a one-point game as well," said Gatland, who kept his counsel on Vahaamahina's elbow to the jaw of Aaron Wainwright.

"I don't think anyone could complain about that -- the officials dealt with it appropriately. Unfortunately that's what rugby is about," added the 56-year-old.

"It's heat of the moment stuff. When you've got a lot of testosterone involved that's sometimes going to happen."

Wainwright smiled: "He had me by the neck so I was just trying to get the ref's attention, but luckily the TMO (television match official) went back to it -- but it's just part of the game!"

England are still the only northern hemisphere side to have won the World Cup after lifting the trophy in 2003, but Gatland has called for Wales to use the pain of their 2011 exit as motivation.

"I think for the players were involved in 2011, obviously it does have an advantage in terms of preparation," he said.

"We need to go away tonight and look at some critical areas of our game. We didn't play our best tonight but we showed great character, so that's a testament to this group of men. Credit to the players -- they never give up. They just keep fighting."

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