Lock Vahaamahina was red-carded for elbowing Welsh flanker Aaron Wainwright in the face in the 49th minute of the 20-19 defeat at Oita Stadium, which sent the French crashing out of the tournament.
"We were able to do that, and the red card was obviously pretty significant". "I think it was a reflex action. It was a reflex and we can not deny he had contact with his face".
"There are other decisions I don't totally agree with".
Most notable among them was the one by referee and TMO to let Ross Moriarty's 74th-minute try stand despite the ball appearing to go forward after it was stripped from the hands of a French player. Those last two tackles really shows what a tight group we are and I really have to take my hat off to the team. They scored a couple of early tries, we got back into it a little bit and then the message at half-time was we just have to score next.
"Of course the red card changed the match, of course when we were playing with 14 men it was hard, but I want to stress the quality of this team, their courage".
Their fairytale run, however, ended against a formidable Springboks defensive effort that slowed the Japanese speed, while the South Africans, who only led 5-3 at halftime, relied on halfback pairing Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard to keep them pinned in their own half.
"Of course, we're playing with 14 men and it's hard", he said. "Today in the game we showed we are not far off reaching that level". We had to make up for the numerical disadvantage.
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"We're relieved, I think", Gatland said.
"Losing becomes a habit but so does winning as well, so we are in that sort of winning habit at the moment".
"Of course the red card changed the match". "In fairness to France they played exceptionally well tonight".
"For the future generations we are one of the youngest teams in the competition, and all the potential".
"What they experienced today will teach them a lesson".
But the 33-year-old, a veteran of 74 Tests, had faith in the team's future.
Another said the player "doesn't learn" after referencing a mistake he made against Wales in the Six Nations.
"We wanted to be the best and I told them the important thing is what they do tomorrow".