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France win thriller over 14-man Wales

John Edwards, Yahoo!7 October 15, 2011, 8:47 pm

France prevailed by a solitary point in a war of attrition against a 14-man Wales in a thrilling World Cup semi-final at Eden Park.

Les Bleus were the first team into the rugby World Cup final as their three penalties trumped a Welsh try and penalty 9-8.

Welsh captain Sam Warburton was sensationally sent off after 17 minutes after his aggressive tackle on Vincent Clerc turned awry as the winger was lifted past the horizontal and crunched head first into the turf.

A man down but far from out of the game, Wales were ultimately undone by a string of missed shots on goal by three different kickers.

The 14-man Welsh outfit tackled hard to a man to keep the French away from their try line, not missing one tackle to the French's seven in the first half.

The Celts were further disrupted as front row lynchpin Adam Jones limped from the field with a calf injury after only nine minutes of play.

Wales finished the first 40 minutes outnumbered but vastly superior in both territory and possession stats.

The French capitalised on their limited field possession with fly-half Morgan Parra kicking two penalty opportunities to first draw his side level and then take them ahead 6-3 at the half - the lowest scoring half of knockout rugby since the 1991 World Cup final.

France centre Maxime Mermoz, caught offside at the ruck conceded the penalty that Welsh pivot James Hook kicked after seven minutes.

This, however, was Hook's only success of the half as he missed two penalty kicks and a drop goal attempt on the slippery Eden Park surface.

Wales coach Warren Gatland pulled the struggling Hook from the field but found no solution to his side's kicking woes as 103 test veteran Stephen Jones also floundered; missing a critical conversion attempt among others.

Parra increased the lead by three before Mike Phillips on the end of a Welsh backline shift showed a fast turn of foot to score in the corner and cut the margin to one.

Wales controlled the ball and the game for the gripping closing exchanges but could not crack Les Bleus until France conceded a penalty on the halfway line with four minutes remaining.

Halfpenny took the long range shot but continued the pattern of costly Welsh misses by not finding enough distance.

Wales finally strung together 26 phases of attacking football but were held out by France's defensive line.

France are the first team to reach a final after losing two pool matches and will face the winner of the Wallabies and All Blacks semi final at Eden Park next Sunday.

France 9 (Pen: Parra 3) Wales 8 (Try: Phillips, Pen: Hook)

HT 6-3


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