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Williams column: Warburton red card still haunts me to this day

Sam Warburton

THERE is a picture of me after our 2011 World Cup semi-final defeat by France.

I’ve seen it circling around this week when I’ve been scrolling through Twitter.

The desolation is obvious – my head is bowed and there are tears in my eyes. I’m absolutely gutted.

That’s what it feels like to lose a World Cup knock-out game. It’s horrible. You don’t know where to look or what to do. You feel like you’ve let your country down and could have done much better.

Every little moment of the game eats away at you.

Eight years ago I really thought we were going to get to the final. The young players who had come into the Welsh team like Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau had made a huge impact and, against the odds, we made it to the last four to meet France.

We weren’t overconfident, but we fancied our chances. That went out the window when Sam was red carded for upending Vincent Clerc. It was a huge credit to the side we lost only 9-8 with 14 men.

That summed up our determination, but the loss was the worst moment of my career. Even now I think back to it and wonder if Sam hadn’t been sent off, would we have been World Cup champions?

They are ifs, buts and maybes, but they still hurt to this day. Wales’ team of 2019 must avoid that happening to them.

Warren Gatland and skipper Alun Wyn Jones will tell their team to give it everything, and have no regrets. You don’t want to die wondering in a World Cup.

The regrets of that France game in 2011 and what might have been still bug me and I don’t want Wales’ current vintage to have the same feelings when they retire. They need to put everything on the line in pursuit of glory and I’ve no doubt that with Alun Wyn at the helm Wales will do exactly that.

I’m out in Japan doing media and TV work for ITV and I managed to catch up with Alun Wyn before Wales faced Fiji in Oita. He’s not a man to be messed with and Alun Wyn is determined to make Warren’s last campaign in charge one to remember. The rest of the team feel likewise.

What was interesting about the game with France is that Wales are favourites. You read that right – Wales were favourites for a World Cup quarter-final! I’m not sure that’s ever happened before and certainly not in recent times.

In 2011 Ireland were favourites for our quarter-final clash, but we produced an excellent team display before bowing out to France. Four years ago Wales were so battered and bruised and lacking depth after the Pool stages that South Africa’s power game proved too much to deal with.

This time it’s different. Warren and Alun Wyn know it, but they are comfortable with the pressure. That’s what I like about this team. They are cool, calm, collected and have full confidence in their ability.

That confidence is justified, but they are not arrogant or overconfident. It’s a nice mix.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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