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Welsh rally around red-carded captain, blame ref

Updated: October 15, 2011, 21:20

AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) The day after their biggest disappointment in decades, the Welsh were rallying around their captain and thinking of still finishing the Rugby World Cup on a high.

Nobody in the squad was blaming skipper Sam Warburton for the team's 9-8 loss to France in the semifinals after his sending off for a dangerous tip tackle on winger Vincent Clerc left Wales with 14 men for more than an hour on Eden Park.

Instead, the Welsh players' dissipating fury was aimed at Irish referee Alain Rolland for pulling out a red card, and they were consoling Warburton, who had become one of the tournament's biggest stars in leading them to the brink of their first ever final.

"That's the sort of characters they are,'' assistant coach Shaun Edwards said on Sunday.

Warburton, 10 centimeters (4 inches) and 15 kilograms (33 pounds) bigger than Clerc, told Edwards the winger felt light in his hands and the tackle, in which the Frenchman was tipped onto the back of his neck with his legs up, was over quickly.

Edwards, who struggled to hold in his emotions after the game but had had time to sleep on it, believed the tackle deserved a penalty and potentially a yellow card. The former rugby league star said he'd been on the receiving end of worse tip tackles himself, but for the sake of Warburton, who faced a judicial hearing late Sunday, it was more important to support the skipper.

The hearing will determine how many more games Warburton will miss apart from this Friday's playoff for third place, as red cards automatically cost a player one game. The four previous hearings at this World Cup for tip tackles delivered penalties ranging from three matches and three weeks to five weeks, including for Tonga's Suka Hufanga for a tackle on Clerc in the pool round.

Tigththead prop Adam Jones was also likely to miss Friday's game because of a torn calf muscle.

Edwards said there was pervading disappointment among the players at Sunday breakfast, but they were not moping or as devastated as they felt in the changing room after the game.

"They're getting ready to do their recovery. That's how dedicated they are,'' he said. "They are trying to recover for the game on Friday. It shows what a fantastic group of individuals we're involved with.

"They're so young, they just want to play rugby. I think that's what's drawn people to them, drawn people in New Zealand to them, drawn people in world rugby to them. They're fit, dedicated, massively motivated. They just want to play rugby, they just want to entertain the rugby world.

"They're everything that is good about the game of rugby. There are no little cliques and they are why you want your sons to play rugby.''

Mike Phillips, the scrumhalf who scored the only try of the match, wished Rolland had put everything in context before ejecting Warburton.

"It was early on in the game, it is a massive game, you are flying into each other. You put big hits in and people go up in the air, that's the way it is,'' Phillips said. "France played up on it. It was showmanship (by Clerc) and they did their job.

"We are a very good team and we deserve to be in the final, without a shadow of a doubt.''

"All the French did was look for penalties,'' he added. "France were poor and they are going to get blown away in the final.''

Lock Luke Charteris said his teammates were heartbroken by the result.

"No one is blaming Sam at all. He has been outstanding all tournament. It's not like it was a reckless or a stupid thing. He put in a good tackle,'' Charteris said. "The boys showed great heart and effort to not let a team of France's attacking powers score a try when down to 14 men.''

Center Jonathan Davies said Warburton told them after the game to keep their heads up. They will finish against either New Zealand or Australia for bronze.

"Before the tournament,'' Davies said, "nobody gave us a shot of coming third in the World Cup, so we will definitely be up for it on Friday.''

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