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News & Comment

David Flatman: Excuse me for saying so but sometimes the law is an ass

From the Front Row: This was the most watchable match of the entire tournament so far

Last night, through the window of a sandwich shop, I saw a traffic warden typing me up a ticket, and out I flew to plead for mercy. "Because I've seen you come out of a shop," she said, "I'm entitled by law to issue you with a fine." I pointed out that I was in nobody's way as the street was, in fact, empty, told her I would be no more than 30 seconds and that, really, she didn't need to do me over.

I told her that this wasn't about the law, this was a human decision. And she looked me in the eye and gave me the ticket. That was one expensive BLT. The biggest problem was that, despite my frustrations, I couldn't really deny that I had done wrong. Sam Warburton will feel the same this morning. Clearly, I would never compare these two incidents in terms of significance, but in both cases the respective contexts were seemingly ignored. Please appreciate that, as a current player, I cannot and must not criticise the referee.

By the letter of the law Warburton, having lifted up an opposition player in the tackle, has a responsibility to see him safely to the ground. He didn't; he dropped him at the last minute. What I will say is that, were I the official with the whistle, I would never, ever have sent him off. The context here is that it is a World Cup semi-final and we're only 20 minutes in. These men have never been more motivated to collide with vicious – but legal – intent. And this may be unrealistic and dangerously subjective, but I thought the character of the man at fault might be considered, too. Warburton is fierce and physical but he is, either by virtue or naivety, not one bit a cynical openside flanker; he's clean and legal.

But it happened, and just a few minutes after Adam Jones had been substituted with what we must presume was a knock sustained midweek. Had it been a fresh injury, he surely would have been given longer to run it off. Instead, he limped off with a look of predicted resignation, soon to be followed by his captain. Little did this forlorn pair know, but their mates were about to put in one of the bravest displays in their nation's rugby history. It was as if it was in their honour.

The departure of Warburton seemed to release enough Welsh adrenaline that their collective energy spiked. And it never seemed to drop off. Add to that the psychological fragility that we know to exist in the skulls of these Frenchmen and it could so easily have been a timeless victory. Instead, the French conspired to shut up shop. Disturbed by the Welsh resilience, they struggled to see past the demons of shock defeat that are always present when they play.

It's funny – this was the most watchable match of the entire tournament so far, yet it still leaves one with a feeling of stinging disaffection. You'd be forgiven for claiming that, had Warburton not been sent off, Wales would have won with ease, but we will never know. We know that Wales would have been in a better position, but not how France would have played. Anything could happen next week but I expect France will lose. I just hope that, come the final whistle, we're talking about the game, not the bloke in the middle.