France advanced to the World Cup final with a narrow 9-8 win at Eden Park on Saturday over a Wales team reduced to 14 men after the sending off of captain Sam Warburton with 60 minutes of the game left.
Three penalties from France flyhalf Morgan Parra were enough to outscore a Mike Phillips solo try and James Hook penalty for Wales, who employed a poor kicking game all evening against a French team content to soak up the pressure.
Hook opened the scoring with an eighth minute penalty after France captain Thierry Dusautoir strayed offside at a ruck.
But the Ospreys playmaker slipped in the run-up to his second effort four minutes later, summing up his ineffectual game before being subbed by veteran Stephen Jones early in the second half.
Wales dominated early territory and when Jamie Roberts was played through the middle by a deft Shane Williams offload, his pass rebounded off the head of midfield partner Jonathan Davies with the French defence absent.
But the Welsh suffered a hammer-blow in the 19th minute when Warburton, at 23 the youngest ever captain in a World Cup semifinal, was shown a straight red card by Irish referee Alain Rolland for a spear tackle on Vincent Clerc, that ended with the France wing crashing to the turf head-first.
Warburton joined Huw Richards as the second Welsh player to be sent off at a World Cup, the latter dismissed in the 1987 semifinal — Wales’s only previous last four appearance — for punching All Black Gary Whetton.
Parra equalled the scores after the Welsh, bidding for a first appearance in the final, collapsed a scrum.
Wales wing George North made a fine try-saving tackle on Maxime Mermoz after Dimitri Yachvili charged down a Hook clearance.
Hook missed a second penalty on the half-hour, but Parra made no such mistake with his to edge France into a 6-3 lead after Dan Lydiate strayed offside at a ruck in front of the posts.
Parra went wide with an ambitious drop-goal early in the second period but nailed a third penalty after Wales collapsed a rolling maul as the French attempted to turn the screw.
Wales at times struggled to maintain their composure, losing a couple of promising line-outs on their own throw, with some poor kicking decisions out of hand handing the French valuable territory and breathing space.
But against the run of play, Phillips skirted a ruck close to the touchline, fended off a weak Pascal Pape tackle and accelerated away to cross for a crucial try, although Stephen Jones saw a conversion that would have given Wales the lead hit the post.
With Welsh tails up, impressive No. 8 Toby Faletau charged downfield, but Jones opted for a drop-goal off his unfavoured left foot instead of keeping possession.
France then closed up shop, offering nothing in attack, instead falling back on grim defence.
There was further drama to come, however, when prop Nicolas Mas was ruled offside at a ruck. But Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny’s 75th minute long-range penalty dipped under the crossbar.
Wales ended with an epic 25 phases in possession, but Roberts spilled the ball on the crash and France, still looking for a first World Cup title, advanced to their third final after losing in the climax of the 1987 and 1999 editions.
The French will play the winners of Sunday’s match between hosts New Zealand and Australia in the October 23 final at Eden Park. — AFP
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