Six Nations 2017: Was France v Wales the day rugby lost its head?
As rugby matches go France v Wales in the 2017 Six Nations is set to become a great list of pub quiz questions.
Name the player who was shown a yellow card with the match clock in the red and still served his 10-minute suspension and came back on to complete the match? Answer: Wales’ Samson Lee.
And how about: What was the time on the match clock when Damien Chouly drove over the line to score the try that Camille Lopez converted to give France a 20-18 win?
Or was it Camille Chat? It should be no surprise that in the most extraordinary, chaotic climax to any game of rugby that the stadium announcer got the try-scorer wrong. It was Chouly who scored and the clock read 100 minutes.
Wales dejected, deflated and shaking their heads in disbelief. France triumphant and celebrating wildly.
A crowd of 78,000-plus not entirely sure what they had just witnessed, but the majority of them celebrating the scoreline.
Make a note of the facts – France 20-18 Wales on Saturday, 18 March 2017.
The day England lost the Grand Slam? No, it was the day rugby lost its head and Wales coach Rob Howley’s run of bad luck took its latest, most bizarre turn yet.
Waiting for the fallout
The fall-out from that 20 minutes of overtime will be considerable.
Howley claimed the integrity of the game had been brought into question in the process leading up to the replacement of replacement prop Uini Atonio with Rabah Slimani – a player he had earlier replaced, if you follow.
But he backed referee Wayne Barnes, who was told by a France team medic that Atonio needed to be assessed after a head injury.
George North claimed to have been bitten after a tackle, but replays provided no evidence that the television match official could use to corroborate the Wales wing’s claim, although Barnes told TMO Peter Fitzgibbon there was evidence of a bite on the player’s arm.
And all the time the clock ticked inexorably onwards, red as a Scarlets supporter’s hat on match day.
Howley says he has already raised the matter of the substitution with Six Nations tournament and operations director Jon Davis, although he wasn’t clear about what he thought could be done.
It was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary season for Wales.
What of Wales’ season?
It was no surprise that the after-match media conference concentrated on the 20 minutes added time.
Perhaps a bigger issue for Wales and Howley is the six-plus hours of rugby played in the tournament before the farcical French finale.
Two wins – against Italy and Ireland – is Wales’ worst return in the Six Nations tournament since 2010.
And they could have lost against the Irish if Robbie Henshaw hadn’t entered a maul illegally to inadvertently stop his own side scoring a try during their 22-9 loss in Cardiff.
Wales scored eight tries in the tournament and were the only side to fail to get a try bonus point against Italy.
Good performances against England and Ireland sandwiched a poor display in their 29-13 loss to Scotland – Wales’ first defeat by the Scots in 10 years.
Time to experiment?
Howley’s faith in the tried-and-tested team that played in the final three matches is unlikely to be an issue the next time Wales play in the summer.
After not selecting any of the seven uncapped players included in his squad at the start of the tournament, expect fresh blood to feature against Tonga and Samoa.
Keelan Giles, Sam Davies and Steff Evans are among those likely to start on that tour, although much will depend on how many Wales players are wearing the red jersey of the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.
Which is where Howley will be, as part of Warren Gatland’s staff.
And when Wales line up for the autumn Tests, Gatland is due to be back in charge after his Lions duties.
Another Howley season ends in memorable fashion
So the curtain descends on Howley’s second season in charge of Wales as interim coach.
Both terms ended with extraordinary matches.
In 2013 Wales thrashed England 30-3 under Howley’s charge to clinch the Six Nations title.
In Paris in 2017, Wales could not stop the clock or the French pack.
Time will tell if it is to be Howley’s last game in charge, but it’s one we will certainly not forget.
Which is precisely why those questions are likely to crop up as fans enjoy a drink and a chat for years to come.