French players celebrate while it's only despair for Wales after their World Cup semifinal

Story highlights

France beat Wales 9-8 in semifinal of Rugby World Cup in Auckland

Wales captain Sam Warburton sent off in 18th minute for dangerous tackle

Wales score only try of the match through Mike Phillips in second half

Hosts New Zealand play Australia in second semifinal Sunday

CNN  — 

France beat heroic 14-man Wales 9-8 in Auckland Saturday to reach the final of the Rugby World Cup.

The match was overshadowed by the 18th minute dismissal of Wales captain Sam Warburton for a dangerous tackle.

It looked to be a harsh decision by Irish referee Alain Rolland and tipped the match in France’s favor although they had to withstand a late Welsh onslaught to maintain their slender lead.

Wales had led 3-0 through a James Hook penalty before losing their skipper, but a pair of Morgan Parra penalties put France 6-3 ahead at the interval.

He increased that lead to 9-3 with his third penalty early in the second half only for Wales to hit back through a clever solo try by scrum half Mike Phillips.

Stephen Jones, a second half replacement for Hook, missed the conversion as it hit the post before Wales had a second chance to take the lead in the closing moments.

Fortunate to win a penalty on the halfway line, Leigh Halfpenny’s kick was accurate but dipped just under the posts.

Wales spent the remainder of the match with the bulk of possession but were unable to work an opening to leave the French to contemplate a final against either hosts New Zealand or Australia who play the second semifinal Sunday on the same ground.

But at the end, the main talking point was the crucial red card for Warburton, whose tackle on Vincent Clerc lifted the French wing off his feet as he released a pass.

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Rolland believed the infringement merited dismissal rather than a sin-bin offense or warning but former World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar of South Africa thought otherwise. “It was a dangerous tackle, yes. Never a red card,” he told ITV Sport.

“It killed the game,” he added.

Warburton, who could miss next Friday’s third place playoff match, was also amazed to have been sent off.

“I’m gutted. There was no malicious intent. I thought it was a normal tackle, the next thing I was walking off into the stands.”

Wales have made only one previous appearance in the World Cup semifinals, losing 49-6 to New Zealand in Brisbane in 1987, but also had a man, Huw Richards, sent off in the defeat.

“I don’t care at all whether it was a good match or not, whether the Welsh deserve to be in the final, we have qualified for the final and that’s all that counts.”

Interest in the opening semifinal was intense and 60,000 fans crammed into the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to watch their Welsh heroes on giant big screens.

They trailed away disappointed, but the intensity is set to step up a gear for the clash between Tasman rivals New Zealand and Australia at Eden Park.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry believes the match his side’s “biggest in 10 years” as they bid to win the World Cup for only the second time after a series of near misses.

Australia have improved after an opening pool defeat to Ireland, but will be without full-back Kurtley Beale, who has lost his race to be fit for the last four clash.