OITA, Japan (Reuters) - Wales coach Warren Gatland admitted he was preparing his farewell speech as Wales trailed France with six minutes left in their World Cup quarter-final but instead he can now work on his semi-final pep-talk after his team snatched a thrilling victory.
Gatland is stepping down following the World Cup after 12 years in charge and would have been hugely frustrated if his last game had been a defeat and a somewhat limp performance against a French team reduced to 14 men for the last 30 minutes.
“I have to say I was starting to think about what I’d be saying to TV, to you guys,” he told a news conference after Ross Moriarty’s converted 74th-dramatic try secured a 20-19 victory.
“You start going through lots of different emotions. I thought France played exceptionally well. They’ve made a lot of progress in five months and I think the best team lost.”
The New Zealander said he was relieved to get to halftime at 19-10 down after France had been full of attacking verve in the first period.
“I thought it was critical when we were down to 14 men and Romain Ntamack hit the post (with a penalty),” he said.
“If they’d gone to the corner and got some success that could have been game over. We needed halftime to just consolidate things, so we could then get some clear messages to the players.”
Gatland said that one message was that they had to score first, which they did via a Dan Biggar penalty in the 54th minute, but by then the nature of the game had changed with the red card for French lock Sebastien Vamihaamahina for elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the face.
France, though, defended superbly and were still leading 19-13 as the clock ticked down.
“I’m really proud of these players, they never give up, they just keep fighting and fighting. We didn’t play our best tonight but it’s testament to this group of men that we came through,” added Gatland.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones used all the experience gained from 140 previous tests for Wales and the British Irish Lions to ensure his team remained calm.
“You do have one eye on the clock but it was a case of sticking to your processes and we had to keep chipping away,” he said.
“I know it sounds boring but that’s what you do, rely on doing the things we’ve been training for.
“France defended very well but our game management was good and we’ve been to some dark places in preparation for this.”
Gatland said that number eight Josh Navidi, who went off midway through the first half with a hamstring strain, will be assessed to see whether he has a chance to make next weekend’s semi-final.
But he was hopeful centre Jonathan Davies, who aggravated his knee injury on Friday and was withdrawn from the team, would be available.
Editing by Tony Lawrence