It was strange. Nobody moved.
In that moment when Jerome Garces blew his final whistle in Yokohama, nothing else mattered. Wales’ World Cup dream was over.
Talismanic captain Alun Wyn Jones stared into nothingness. Owen Watkin was glued to the spot, hands on head, eyes fixed on a single blade of grass. Emptiness.
Usually in the face of such devastation players drop to their knees or lie on their backs, waiting for a team-mate or an opponent to pick them up.
Leigh Halfpenny could be seen on his haunches under his sticks, the tears flowing, but no Wales player fell to the ground. Beaten but unbowed.
As the minds began to comprehend the disappointment, eventually Josh Adams did drop to one knee. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
For three years, head coach Warren Gatland had been plotting a route to the sport’s highest peak. Players themselves have been grafting away for five months.
The squad had toiled at the Vale Resort base, they’d grafted in the Swiss Alps and sweat it out in the Turkish heat to prepare for this six weeks. But they’d fallen short.
As they have done all tournament, Wales thanked all four stands, acknowledging their hosts for their tremendous hospitality.
Eventually, after waving to loved ones and thanking the thousands of Welsh fans who had travelled to the other side of the world, players disappeared into the sheds.
It was quiet. What had just happened was still sinking in.
“There wasn’t too much chat going on there at the start,” said Hadleigh Parkes, revealing the mood in the dressing room.
“I think you just realise that you’ve come that close to making it through to the final.
“There are small margins and unfortunately today it wasn’t to be.”
To their credit, Wales refused to hide behind excuses and were gracious in their defeat. Big hitters fronted up to the media. Answers were hard to find.
Media interviews were tough. Players held back the tears as they tried to sum up their emotions in the bowels of Yokohama Stadium.
After the match Gatland shot down a question over whether it was a game too far for his side, but you couldn’t shake the feeling that it was. The full transcript of his press conference is here.
You only had to look to the touchline during the warm-up, where you would find Liam Williams with his right foot in a protective boot and Josh Navidi, whose tournament was ended by a hamstring injury last week.
The rigour of the tournament, and the way Wales had won games against Fiji and France, had taken its toll.
Jonathan Davies was made to fight incredibly hard to make this game after suffering a knee injury against Fiji, while Hadleigh Parkes has been struggling with hand and shoulder problems for weeks.
Men in red all over the field found something from deep within themselves to face up to the most daunting physical challenge in world rugby and meet it head on.
They had showed composure to rescue it against Fiji and then real guts and sheer determination to salvage victory from the jaws of defeat against Les Bleus.
To do it a third time was asking too much.
Real desire was required to get back to 16-16 and from there it was anyone’s game.
But two blasts of Garces’ whistle saw the Springboks move into position before Pollard mercilessly knocked over the decisive penalty.
The pain was slow, not quick. South Africa squeezed Wales out of the game through their scrum and their maul. It wasn’t easy on the eye. But it was effective. It was enough.
Much has been made of this being Gatland’s final charge with Wales as he moves on to pastures new after next week.
What is being overlooked is that it was the last shot for many of the players.
Nevermind five months, the core of this squad has been together for eight years. Many won’t get another crack at conquering the world.
“I don’t know if I’ll be around in four years,” admitted fly-half Dan Biggar.
They will never get the chance to exorcise this demon. The time they almost made the World Cup final will live with them forever.
That word. Almost.
But, if there is a saving grace, it is that there will be no vicious inquest into this. Nobody will lose their job over it.
Wales leave this tournament with no regrets. There isn’t a stone that hasn’t been turned over.
“I can’t ask any more of these players,” insisted Gatland after the match.
Neither can a nation.
What more is there to say?
Source link : https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/wales-south-africa-result-report-17155522
Publish date : 2019-10-27 17:54:00