Confusion, illegaility claims reign in last 20 minutes of France-Wales

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The word 'cheating' was used very frequently in the post-match press conference but, hard as he was pressed, Rob Howley, Wales's interim head coach refused to utter the 'C' word himself.

He settled instead for: "I believe the integrity of international rugby, the game we love, was brought into disrepute today".

He did, however, spell out in great detail the sequence of events that led him to that conclusion adding: "the process leading up to the French tight-head being replaced should never happen again".

As Howley saw it, Rabah Slimani, the tight-head prop who had been replaced by Uini Atonio, was ordered to warm-up pitch-side on an exercise bike before one of the French team officials left the technical area (illegal in itself) and briefed the team doctor.

He then ran onto the pitch and told referee, Wayne Barnes, he needed to take Atonio off for a head injury assessment [HIA].

There had been no obvious collision and Barnes confirmed last night that when he asked the player if there was a problem before the doctor reached him Atonio [brought up in Auckland and fluent in English] replied that he had a sore back but was OK.

Nevertheless, the doctor insisted he leave the field and Slimani, the most destructive scrummager on either team, returned to wreak havoc in that extraordinary final 20 minutes.

Howley insisted he was not criticising Barnes, he felt he had no choice but to comply because of the emphasis that has been put on player welfare in recent months.

Barnes confirmed last night that he was unhappy and perplexed by the whole incident but could not overrule the doctor.

It would have been easy for him to take the easy option and award a penalty try to France for the series of scrum collapses in the 'red zone' during that frantic 20 minutes of extra time -- who would ever have believed you would see the clock ticking over to 100 minutes in a rugby match?

But on every occasion he was content to award just a penalty perhaps because he felt unhappy about Slimani returning [although he would not admit it] or because he had refused a penalty try for Wales when he yellow carded Virimi Vakatawa for the deliberate knock-on [again in the red zone] that prevented a simple touchdown for George North.

His explanation -- that he felt cover was coming across and might have got to him was not born out by the replays.

In the end his patience paid off and the constant French pressure forced the try -- there was certain inevitability about it although a distraught Dan Biggar was one player who clearly felt it was a huge injustice.

Howley confirmed he had reported the incident to the Six Nations Committee and will be asking for a full investigation.

After victory over Ireland, finishing fifth was not the end to the Six Nations Championship that Wales had anticipated. A victory for Wales, and a defeat for Ireland would have propelled Rob Howley's side into fourth in the world rankings ahead of the World Cup draw.

As it is stands, they will face one of New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland with the possibility of Argentina adding their weight to a group of death.