Rugby World Cup Semi-Final Match Report: Wales 8 - France 9

The French slayed the Welsh dragon despite a performance that deserved so much more in a game that was tainted by the controversial sending off of the Welsh Captain.

The anticipation had been simmering all week, coming to the boil on Saturday and regardless of form, the look in the eyes of both teams said it all. Passion was palatable during the Anthems, the coverage showing an absolutely packed Millenium Stadium back in Cardiff of Welshmen willing their boys on. The kick-off forced France to put the ball out immediately, prompting the Welsh to maul the resulting lineout with alarming speed to within ten metres of the French line before errors dampened this effort. France responded with vigour, putting in several similarly determined drives into the oppositions half before a lack of precision (front rows trying to pass) ceased any opportunity. After five minutes James Hook was given the opportunity to score the first points of the day from inside the French 22. Despite been next to the touchline, he curled it through the posts beautifully. A turnover lead to a Welsh penalty on half way but this was missed. But of more worry would have been the sight of Adam Jones, the heavyweight and integral tighthead, leaving the field in a mixture of agony and tears. Very much the lynchpin on the scrum, this was a cruel blow so early in the game for the experienced prop. James Hook missed again from closer this time, replays showing a heavy shower before kick-off had loosened the top layer of soil and his standing foot skated away in the process. With the French defence successfully sprinting off the mark in the tight, when the ball went wide the game opened up just for a second to allow Jamie Roberts to break the line, but his offload inside to Jonathan Davies seemed more of an attempt to give him a black eye much like the beaut€™ he was sporting than to get it to his hands. The ire of the crowd was raised when Sam Warburton brought Vincent Clerc back to ground with a bump deemed illegal by referee Alain Roland. With the sight of Clerc going vertical and landing on his back and writhing on the ground the referee, amazingly, sent off Wales€™ Captain. The Twitterverse went instantly mad, a possible yellow card, if that, the consensus correct decision. With the debates beginning in pubs everywhere and the Welsh side in disbelief, Wales collapsed a scrum to give the French a kickable penalty. With France taking their allowed minute to kick, the faces of the Welsh players seemed to be a mixture of shock and regrouping, the loss of both Warburton and Jones had changed the face of the game hugely. After six weeks of changeable and un-cohesive refereeing displays, the hopes for a game purely decided by the rugby had been destroyed after only eighteen minutes. Parra levelled the score. With the Welsh defence and mindset rocking, a charged down James Hook kick behind his own line raised heart rates before France endured yet another handling error €“ an unwanted statistic that was slowly creeping up. The responsibility now lay with the likes of Gethin Jenkins and Alun Wyn Jones to keep their side together, the faith of the last six weeks remaining undiluted. A lack of urgency to get back to their feet at the ruck meant James Hook had another difficult but kickable penalty. Again he pushed it wide, a developing theme that hopefully would not continue. James Roberts continued to devastate the defence with ball in hand, with teenage winger George North also making use of his Samoan like frame. A slip from Dan Lydiate gifted Morgan Parra a relatively simple kick in front of the posts to give Les Blues the lead for the first time with the break mere minutes away. Desperate to regain parity, James Hook tried the drop goal but skewed in low and wide. A miss that the on watching Warren Gatland and Stephen Jones no doubt took note of. With the French taking their slender lead into the safety of the changing rooms, the Welsh were left with ten minutes to re-gather and work out how to play for the next forty minutes with 14 men. Admittedly they still looked in the game for the twenty minutes they had already spent with a man down, but whether their much vaunted fitness preparation would be able to carry them through for the full eighty was about to be tested. The complete anger of Francois Piennar on commentating duties with ITV was a good indicator of the outrage felt everywhere but in Paris. Replays of the Warburton tackle in question in my mind did not change the fact it was not a red card. The benefit of hindsight for those with TVs is no doubt a help, but don€™t forget the referee can use the Television Match Official in these occasions too. Heckles raised by a sense of injustice the Welsh lost the kick off and watched as Parra clipped a drop goal wide, the French keen to build the gap. Leigh Halfpenny continued to impress in his supposedly stand-in role as full back, as the game remained finely balanced, both sides suffering from errors and the slippery turf. With the margin remaining only three, Stephen Jones entered the fray for James Hook, but did not have an opportunity to change the score before Parra kicked another penalty for a collapsed maul. The riling of the Welsh dragon was being matched by the recognition of opportunity by the French as they continued to look unrecognisable to the side that lost to Tonga fortnight ago, threatening regularly and expertly squeezing the minutes out of the game. With ex-captain Ryan Jones joining the campaign, a missed tackle by second row Nallet on 6ft 2€ scrum half Mike Phillips saw Stephen Jones given the chance to take the score to 10-9 in the favour of the now surging sea of red, the kick grazing the wrong side of the left hand post. Wales were one point behind with twenty minutes to go. With the stadium and the French suddenly rocking, a charge by Toby Faletau gave Jones a chance to make amends with a drop goal, but hesitation denied him and Wales. Tense does not come near to describing the atmosphere as the clock just wouldn€™t stop ticking, neither side showing signs of who would score next. Good field position directly in front of the posts was wasted with a knock on, the Welsh at no point seemingly contemplating the drop goal that would see them reclaim the lead. Nicolas Mas failed to join a ruck correctly, giving away a penalty a sniff inside his own half. Five minutes remained as Leigh Halfpenny stepped up to take the kick, Stephen Jones considering it a kick too far for his boots. In what felt like an age, the kick remained straight and true, but the flags stayed down, the ball dipping beneath the crossbar at the last. The non-Gallic rugby world threw their heads into their hands in despair. With the clock almost done, the Welsh went through the phases, creeping down field as they went through 26 phases. But the French just would not give, refusing to dive in and gift the winning penalty. Instead, stuck on the French ten metre line and unable to get close enough for a drop goal, Stephen Jones tried one last move, his pass being knocked on into the grateful French hands who kicked the ball to touch and to victory, send the Welsh and every rugby neutral into a feeling of deflation and despair. France were through to another final at the expense of the Welsh. Devastating, quite simply. The Welsh fought for so long and so hard with a man short that by the end of the game you have forgotten they only had 14 on the pitch. Credit to the French for getting into the lead and keeping it. They never looked like they were going to get many more points, if any, but their discipline in the second half was a complete volte face compared to the group games. With plenty of experience they expertly turned the screw and squeezed the life out of the game, denying the Welsh for large chunks. As I sit here I feel more sadness for the defeat of the Welsh than for my very own England last week. At least the Welsh performed, courageously and were so unlucky. They had chances to win it, any one of several missed kicks would have been enough. But they just could not get that little bit of good luck, a quantum of fortune to tip it in their favour, much like the South Africa game. The biggest talking point of this game will be the red card. Regardless what is said, I maintain it was not a sending off and there is no doubt it changed the game. Only last week on these very pages the refereeing of the Australia game garnered too much attention and yet here we are again. Alain Rolland got it wrong and for all his French speaking ability I would be amazed if he hasn€™t pushed himself out of the running to take charge of the final. That is all I have to say on the matter, no doubt the discussions about it will echo into the night but at the end of the day, it won€™t change things. Wales€™ World Cup dream has been brought to an end. Well that is not strictly true. To add insult to injury they have a third place play off against tomorrow€™s losers. No doubt the squad players will be given some game time in a match that ultimately is for pride. But when they return home they will receive a hero€™s welcome, as they have been heroic from day one. Some of the rugby they have played has been exceptional. They may not have scored extravagant tries all over the place, but the display of this team was exactly that. A team. The togetherness and determination these lads showed was inspiring and many of their rivals can look to this as to how to approach a World Cup. So today is a day for sadness and wishing of what could have been. To be denied by a single point will no doubt be hard to take and the €˜what if€™s€™ will take a while to clear the air. But it seems that brighter days are ahead for this bunch of players and I€™m sure it won€™t be long before they are rewarded for their endeavours, with the December game against Australia suddenly becoming the prefect welcome home party.

Wales (3) 8

Try: Phillips Pen: Hook

France (6) 9

Pens: Parra 3

Follow @BallInTouch on Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest rugby news and columns. Jeff Ball is a Geordie with a Newcastle Falcons season ticket, a rugby coaching badge, a bias for Newcastle United on Playstation games and was terrified by Jurassic Park as a child. For more of his personal musings following him on Twitter @JeffreyBall If you have any comments about this story please post a comment.