Instant of madness upends his world

RICHARD KNOWLER AT EDEN PARK
Last updated 05:00 16/10/2011

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Captain  calamity Sam Warburton must have felt as sick as a poisoned parrot when Alain Rolland plucked the red card out of his strides last night.

No, he would not have just felt ill – the bottom would have dropped out of his world.

Having led Wales into the World Cup semifinal against France, openside flanker Warburton was being hailed as a hero in the principality. Now he will long be remembered as the skipper who left his men to battle for 62 minutes with just 14 men.

In a moment of madness he locked his arms around France's right wing Vincent Clerc, hoisted him into the air and drove him dangerously into the Auckland turf.

And in that split second he plunged his rugby world into darkness.

The French, led by skipper Thierry Dusautoir, rushed forward to remonstrate with Warburton and protested by puffing their chests out and twirling their handbags.

When the argy-bargy had finished it was Irishman Rolland who fired the deadliest shot. He didn't hesitate to go into his pocket, select the red card and send Warburton off.

And when he looks at the tape of this match – if he ever does – the 23-year-old should acknowledge he only had himself to blame.

Rolland will now be vilified in Wales for over-reacting – with some justification. Now he is now poised to replace New Zealand's Bryce Lawrence as the most detested referee on the IRB's panel.

Yet Warburton shouldn't have given the ref the opportunity to end his World Cup. He is not a player with a reputation for poking eyes or the like and it wasn't a malicious act.

But it was a risky move and as soon as Clerc slapped into the ground he entered a deadly game of Russian roulette.

Ironically, Warburton's dismissal followed coach Warren Gatland's recent statement that his men were not squeaky clean.

Gatland was referring to their off-field activities because his men were being championed by the British media as being holier than thou after England had been vilified for acting like a bunch of morons.

Gatland would not in his wildest dreams thought he would lose his skipper in the most important match of their careers for such a reckless act.

Warburton's expulsion didn't just put his side under huge pressure. It also robbed fans of the chance to watch the captains pit their physical and mental skills against each other.

Dusautoir, dubbed the "Dark Shark", won the contest by default but even as his men were put under immense pressure by the Welsh he remained largely composed.

The 29-year-old, who packed down on the left side of the scrum, launched some cracking defensive hits in his 48th test and whenever the Welsh called short lineouts he aimed for the second receiver to try and shunt them behind the gain line.

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But it was the man sitting on the sideline in the red No7 jersey who will dominate headlines.

What should have been a highlight of Warburton's career disintegrated into a nightmare.

- Sunday News