'Stephen is not a malicious player, we know he never meant to do that'


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The Independent Online

Sam Warburton expressed his sympathy for Stephen Ferris last night as Paul O'Connell revealed his doubts about the late penalty which saw Wales win.

O'Connell, the Ireland captain, described how his team-mate was lost for words after the 23-21 defeat. "He hasn't said much about it," said O'Connell. "I was next to him when it happened and I didn't see any problem at all. We'll have to took at the video."

Declan Kidney, the Ireland coach, would not be drawn on the controversy of Ferris's tip-tackle on the Welsh lock Ian Evans, and said: "I only concentrate on what we can control." But Warburton, the Wales captain who was sent off for a tip-tackle against France in last year's World Cup semi-final, was prepared to open up. "Stephen is not a malicious player who is a strong tackler, but we all know he would never mean to do that," said Warburton. "So in that sense I do sympathise with him."

However, Warren Gatland was showing no sympathy to Bradley Davies, the Welsh second row who was also shown a yellow by Wayne Barnes for a tip-tackle on Donnacha Ryan. Should it have been a red? "Yes," replied Gatland. "It was a stupid yellow card." He went on to say he expected Davies to be cited and with long-term injuries to Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris, the engine room will be a problem as quality back-ups are decidedly thin on the ground. There are also fears concerning the fitness of Warburton, who went off at half-time with a dead leg. "The doctors will look at it tomorrow and I should know about the recovery time then," he said.

These issues apart, Gatland was understandably pleased with the opening victory, warning the other nations of better to come. "We were reasonably lucky, but I don't think we were at our best," said the Kiwi. "We were only at about 70 per cent of what we can do. But to come here and be under pressure and to come back from six points down with five minutes remaining with 14 men shows great character. This win has given us massive confidence, and we are dangerous when we are playing with belief and confidence."

Gatland praised George North but blamed himself for Rhys Priestland missing all three kicks at goal. "Rhys has been sidelined, while Leigh [Halfpenny] has been kicking them from everywhere for the Blues," he said. "We shouldn't have put so much pressure on Rhys. But I thought he was excellent in the second half."

His defence coach, Shaun Edwards, was content with his side and said: "Seeing as the Irish regions have been putting 30, 40 points on teams in the Heineken Cup, I'm quite pleased we only conceded one try in the 70 minutes when we played with 15 men."