France edge out 14-man Wales
Graham Jenkins at Eden Park
October 15, 2011
France's Morgan Parra slots a kick against Wales at Eden Park
© Getty Images
France booked a place in the Rugby World Cup Final with an unconvincing 9-8 victory over 14-man Wales at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
Three penalties from the boot of fly-half Morgan Parra were enough to propel Les Bleus into their third tournament finale and deny a gutsy Wales side that suffered two first half hammer blows, in the form of a controversial red card for captain Sam Warburton and an injury to prop Adam Jones. Wales rallied bravely with a try from scrum-half Mike Phillips after the break but came up agonisingly short in their quest for a first final appearance with a series of missed kicks also proving costly.
France, beaten by both New Zealand and Tonga in the Pool stages, can now look forward to a date with either the All Blacks or Australia next weekend, with the two southern hemisphere giants set to meet in Sunday night's other semi-final. Either way the French will have to raise their game having stumbled their way past Wales.
A heavy rain shower prior to kick-off played havoc with both sides' attempts to get a grip on the ball in the opening exchanges but it had relented by the time James Hook stepped up to give his side the lead from the kicking tee, after France's captain Thierry Dusautoir appeared to have been harshly penalised at a ruck.
Wales' joy was short-lived as Jones limped off moments later with a calf injury, to be replaced by Paul James, but the Welsh pack responded superbly to earn a penalty at the next scrum. This time Hook pushed the kick wide with the slippery surface giving way under his standing foot.
Wales continued to dominate, with a bullocking run from centre Jamie Roberts resulting in big gains, but their hopes took a major blow midway through the half with Warburton's dismissal. The flanker engulfed France winger Vincent Clerc on half way before lifting him and dumping him to the ground, with referee Alain Rolland deeming the offence serious enough to brandish red. Loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins took on the captaincy but he and the rest of his pack were soon in further trouble at scrum time, with the result Parra's first penalty.
Sensing blood, France pressed forward with Parra ghosting through the usually resolute Welsh defence. Fullback Leigh Halfpenny swept up superbly for Wales only for Hook's clearance kick to be charged down. France then peppered the line but wasted the opportunity with an adventurous and fruitless drop goal attempt from fullback Maxime Medard bringing a disappointing ending to promising series of phases. But Wales were also wasteful with Hook sending his next penalty attempt wide of the uprights.
Parra's excellent first-half continued just past the half hour with another line break leading to an offside penalty, which the No.10 stroked between the posts. Wales went in search of a reply before the break and their build up work promised much but the end result was a desperate-looking drop goal attempt from Hook that fell short and wide.
Wales conspired to gift France the first opportunity after the break but slow ball robbed them of momentum, with Parra's eventual drop goal attempt missing the target. Wales opted to withdraw Hook in favour of Stephen Jones after just five minutes of the second half in a major tactical switch but it did little to ease the French onslaught. Handling errors cost them dear in the shadow of the posts but the pack came to the rescue with a powerful drive drawing a penalty against James, Parra slotting the kick to cement his side's lead.
France attempted to extend their dominance to the lineout, with the Wales throw coming under increasing scrutiny, but they survived the repeated attempts to squeeze them out of the game and hit back with a classic counter punch. A rare foray up field provided the attacking platform and the in-form Phillips exploited a gap before powering away to the line for a score completely against the run of play. Jones was unable to add the conversion but Wales were back in the contest at just one point adrift and full of belief once again. No.8 Toby Faletau was the next to get the Welsh fans on their feet with a surge into space and his effort deserved better than a woeful drop goal attempt from Jones.
France were not prepared to risk anything and played for territory in an attempt to keep the pressure on Wales but the tactic offered Wales a lifeline and they were not so shy as they swept forward with a quarter of an hour of the game remaining.
Wales' patience eventually paid off, with a harsh-looking penalty against France's Nicolas Mas handing Halfpenny the chance to give his side the lead but justice appeared to be served as his long range kick fell just short of the cross bar. Wales then conjured an epic series of phases in the hope of a late turnaround but their efforts were in vain as France snuffed out the attack to set the seal on a far from impressive victory.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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