France booked their place in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final with a 9-8 triumph over Wales at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
France booked their place in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final with a 9-8 win over Wales at Eden Park on Saturday.
Did they deserve it for the way they played against fourteen men? No. But that is rugby as Wales bow out following what was a superb tournament.
Sam Warburton was the man shown red for a dangerous tackle after just 18 minutes but that didn't stop Wales from scoring the only try of the game, through Mike Phillips on the hour mark.
But it wasn't enough in the end as three Morgan Parra penalties ultimately trumped a solitary three-pointer from James Hook and that try.
A repeat of the 1987 final is almost complete.
Not ten minutes before kick-off the heavens opened over Eden Park as hopes of an open spectacle took a knock before the semi-final had even got going. Perhaps the nagging question was who would the new conditions favour but before opinions were given, the rain abated.
Despite an almost immediate Welsh pack foray through the driving maul, it was France who came out of the blocks with the bit between their teeth when William Servat found space on the blindside to allow go-forward ball that took them into the red zone. However, Wales were solid enough to counteract that attack and soon set off on one of their own, fly-half Hook it was who put the ball into George North's grasp which led to the game's first three points.
Wales were looking like the confidence they had picked up during earlier rounds was still coursing through the veins and a dominant first scrummage against the French – which saw them awarded a penalty by referee Alain Rolland – gave them an extra shot in the arm. Hook's missed attempt at goal definitely was not what the doctor ordered though. Neither was the sight of in-form prop Adam Jones limping off with only twelve minutes gone.
It was all going swimmingly for the Welsh until the moment arrived that turned the game and all but ended their hopes of making the World Cup final. France were looking to attack the fringes of a line-out on halfway but Vincent Clerc found his path firmly shut by flanker Warburton – the skipper lifting, turning and tipping Clerc much to the displeasure of Rolland. Warburton was shown red amid mass boos and jeers from the supporters wearing that colour. As expected, the fallout of that refereeeing decision is already well underway.
For Wales it was abundantly clear that they now needed the performance of their lives while France could almost smell another final on New Zealand soil. Parra – given the kicking tee earlier in the day – quickly helped them on their way with a penalty just after the quarter and another on minute 33. That saw France go 6-3 up but there was still a feeling Wales had something in their locker, before or after Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards got their say.
What might have given the Wales players and coaching staff encouragement was the statistic that France made 22 more tackles during the first-half. A sign of Welsh pride.
Let's be honest, Wales had to clutch all of the mini-victories they could at this stage but seeing Servat and Jean-Baptiste Poux being replaced by the fresh legs of forwards Dimitri Szarzewski and Fabien Barcella just four minutes into their return was not something they could spin into a positive. Neither was another three from Parra after a collapsed driving maul brought an end to a sustained period of territory for Les Bleus. 9-3 was now their lead.
Gatland had obviously sensed that without their captain on the field, Wales needed real experience in the middle and who better to call upon than someone with 100+ caps in his cabinet. Enter Stephen Jones in place of Hook and so it began as Wales did superbly to weather that passage of pressure before Phillips, like against Ireland, caught the defence napping, fending and ghosting through for a key score. Jones missed the extras though.
The crowd had found their voice and feet once again, as did the replacement benches of both sides as Bradley Davies and Julien Pierre joined the fray ahead of the final fifteen.
It had turned into a true semi-final as no one knew which way the game would turn next. A single point was all that was in it and the tension was palpable, no more so than when Wales set up camp five out on two occasions. Their first charge resulted in a horrible left-footed drop-goal attempt by Jones before he failed to get into the pocket for the second.
There was further drama to come, however, when Nicolas Mas was ruled offside at a ruck. But full-back Leigh Halfpenny's 75th minute long-range penalty dipped under the crossbar.
And those three chances proved golden moments as France held on for an undeserved place in the final, with several of their players looking embarrassed about celebrating.
Man of the match: All fourteen Welsh players on the field. They played with their hearts on their sleeves for their country and were desperately unlucky not to be in next week's final.
Moment of the match: Simple; the red card for Sam Warburton.
Villain of the match: While the law is the law, a quick decision from referee Alain Rolland pretty much sealed the fate of Wales. If he had of taken time to talk to his touch-judges Wayne Barnes and Jonathan Kaplan then maybe the game might not have been soured.
Pens: Parra 3
Red card: Warburton (Wales – 18th min – tip tackle)
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Scott Williams.
France: 15 Maxime MÃ©dard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 AurÃ©lien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal PapÃ©, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Cedric Heymans.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Wayne Barnes (England)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
By Adam Kyriacou at Eden Park