It speaks volumes that, almost to a man, the former international players who were asked for their opinion described Sam Warburton's red card as a terrible decision. Alas, the one former international whose opinion genuinely mattered thought differently – and so Wales will not be contesting their first Rugby World Cup final.
What disappoints me most about the incident is that Alain Rolland played rugby union at the very highest level. I thought the former scrum-half, who won three caps for Ireland, would have had a better feel for the game, would have understood how difficult it is for players in the heat of battle. Fair enough, Rolland followed "the letter of the law". But that doesn't mean it wasn't a dreadful decision.
There's enough leeway, enough vagueness in the International Rugby Board's directive for Rolland to have shown a yellow. And if there isn't any vagueness, if the rule truly is "black and white" as some would have it, then why, when confronted in previous games in this World Cup (eg France v Tonga), did other referees choose to send the miscreants to the bin? Of course, several wrongs don't make a right. But surely, if some of the biggest referees displayed some leniency, it proves that this directive is not cut and dried.
A referee needs to have common sense when officiating. The circumstance of a 6ft 3in forward tackling a 5ft 10in wing at that particular angle was a very influential factor as to why Vincent Clerc was raised off the ground. And Warburton did not drill him into the ground. I think he panicked and let him go and this was what saw Clerc land on his back. Even if there was no malicious intent, as everybody agrees, on Warbuton's part, you have to ask yourself, "was it dangerous?" Not to my mind, and Rolland should have taken this into account.
You can't just referee by numbers, rules and directive. Like I said, the best referees have a feel and exert common sense. I don't care what anyone says, this directive, or rule, or whatever, is not clear and needs clarification. This is the very least the IRB should do after Saturday's controversy. Yesterday it banned Warburton for three weeks, but the punishment should be six weeks. That only adds to confusion. Whatever, this has done absolutely no good for the game of rugby union.
The IRB should look at the whole area of "tip-tackling" and, apart from what is dangerous and what isn't, allow the ref the scope to judge whether it was intentional as well as taking into account as the scenario and context. How many neck injuries have we had in rugby because of this tackle? Certainly, not as many as in the scrum and other areas of the game.
The IRB should also look at the ruck as well as the tackle area. Slow ball is the scourge of entertainment and, because of this, the board should bring back rucking. Not in schools, maybe, but definitely at professional level. The IRB is a little too PC in my view.
Because of that Wales have been robbed of a place in the World Cup final. I couldn't be any more certain of that. Granted, they could have kicked their kicks and should have won anyway. But they would undeniably have won by 10 points or more if Warburton hadn't been so harshly treated. The kid is a "model professional", the very character the IRB should be promoting as the face of the game. The inconsistency caused by its rules and directives means he wouldn't have played in the final, whatever the result. "Bitterly disappointed" is the only way I can sum up my emotions, without resorting to agricultural language.
However, I don't subscribe to the theory that New Zealand now have a mere walkover to their first Webb Ellis Trophy in 24 years. Yeah, if the home side get some early points on the board, then the game probably will be over as a contest pretty quickly. But if France get off to a good start then they do possess the talent to make it interesting.
France, don't forget, are the last team to beat the All Blacks at Eden Park (albeit way back in 1994). Individually they are fine players and sometimes as a collective they just click. No, apart from their highly fortuitous win against Wales, they haven't really beaten anyone in this tournament. But there are a number of players in their squad who will think to themselves: "Hey, we're in the final here – this could be our last chance".
For Wales there is only third to play for and as professionals they could probably do without a meaningless money-earner. This consolation match is another thing the IRB should look at. In fact, its "to do" list should be brimming.