|An exhausted Welsh team collapse as France celebrate reaching the World Cup final [GALLO/GETTY]
France held on to reach the World Cup final on Saturday with a dramatic 9-8 victory over a brave Wales team forced to play three quarters of the game with 14 men after their captain Sam Warburton was sent off.
Flanker Warburton was shown the red card in the 18th minute for a spear tackle on France winger Vincent Clerc, giving the French a huge advantage in their bid to reach a third World Cup final.
France made heavy weather of it but ultimately three penalties from the boot of flyhalf Morgan Parra and a huge defensive effort were enough to set up a final back at Eden Park next week against hosts New Zealand or Australia, who meet in the second semi-final on Sunday.
"It was a really tough game for us, and we are very happy to be in the World Cup final," said French captain Thierry Dusautoir.
"Today we won thanks to our defence. We defended well... we played with our hearts. I don't know who will win tomorrow, but we are happy to be there next week."
Wales, who had lock Huw Richards sent off in their only previous semi-final against New Zealand in 1987, produced a herculean effort after Warburton's red card and scored the only try of the match in the 59th minute through scrumhalf Mike Phillips.
That reduced the contest to a one-point game, replacement flyhalf Stephen Jones grazing the post with the missed conversion that would have given the Welsh the lead.
Giving their all
Despite going through 25 phases as the seconds ticked away to the end of the game, Wales were unable to get close enough to the French posts to give Jones a kickable attempt at a drop goal.
"It was always going to be tough after the sending off but we gave our all right up to the end," said prop Gethin Jenkins.
"Just disappointed that we ended up the losing side.
"It changed the game a bit when Sam went off we had to play a different style of rugby and fair play to the French, they held us out for the full 80."
After a deluge of rain just before kickoff, flyhalf James Hook opened the scoring for Wales with an eighth-minute penalty and his young backline started making inroads with some incisive and confident running.
| Welsh fans despair after their team was beaten by France at Millennium Stadium [GALLO/GETTY]
The match turned 10 minutes later, however, when Clerc came scooting around the blindside of a ruck and was sent crashing head-first into the dirt by Warburton.
A yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin-bin looked inevitable but a stunned silence turned to boos when referee Alain Rolland showed the Welshman a straight red.
Four minutes later and the Welsh pack had given up a penalty at the scrum and Parra stepped up to put the French on level terms. He added another five minutes from the break to send his side into halftime 6-3 ahead.
His third penalty came 11 minutes into the second half and the match looked all but lost for the Welsh until Phillips came storming down the blindside of a ruck and through the tackle of French lock Pascal Pape to touch down eight minutes later.
That set up a nerve-tingling final 20 minutes but ultimately the biggest day in Welsh rugby history ended in disappointment for their many supporters at Eden Park and the many more packed into Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.