Destiny skips its date with Wales

Failure to reach a first Rugby World Cup final is a harsh and barely-deserved reality after France shut out 14-man Wales to scrape through by one point.

What counts as a tragedy?

Losing a World Cup semi-final 9-8 to France certainly doesn’t, in the scheme of things.

But as 14 Welshmen stood frozen in attitudes of despair at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday night, it was hard not to grieve for a first Rugby World Cup final appearance that will now never happen.

Wales dominated France offensively despite playing with a man down for 62 minutes out of the 80, after their inspirational young captain Sam Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Vincent Clerc.

They then played with all the skill and adventure that has made them the neutrals’ favourites in New Zealand as they came within a post’s width of snatching victory.

“I just felt that our destiny of having a chance of making the final was taken away from us with the red card,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

“I think it’s a travesty for the competition because clearly the team who should be playing on Sunday night isn’t going to be,” his assistant Shaun Edwards added.

All of Wales’ heroism against the odds doesn’t change one fact.

France beat them, and Les Bleus can count this as a famous victory against a team that, despite being one player short, was better than them.

But whether they face either New Zealand or Australia in the final on October 23, their stubborn defence and accurate place-kicking will be almost as much to fear as the attacking rugby they are occasionally capable of.

“I think we had a guardian angel tonight,” France coach Marc Lièvremont said.

“I think there are a lot of people annoyed that we have qualified, but we played with our hearts.”

The French have made it to the final having played one good game at this tournament – and as they themselves admitted before Saturday, that was only against England.

Wales went into their semi-final as favourites and were soon 3-0 up through a James Hook penalty, before losing prop Adam Jones to an ankle injury, and Warburton to a permanent spot in the sin-bin.

Two missed penalties by Hook allowed opposite number Morgan Parra to boot France into a six-point lead early in the second half.

And when Welsh scrum half Mike Phillips outfoxed the French defence for a 60th-minute try, Hook’s replacement Steven Jones hit the post with a conversion that could have won the match.

The majority of New Zealanders in a crowd of 58,629 at Eden Park were firmly on the side of Wales, but their hopes and fears now turn to Sunday’s semi-final against Australia.

A nightmare scenario would be an Australia v France final on New Zealand soil, with neither of those sides holding any place in Kiwi hearts.

Australia are the common foe, while France knocked the All Blacks out in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup.

This rugby-mad nation of four million is desperate to clear the final hurdle. If not, a rugby-mad nation of three million awaits them in the third-place playoff on Friday.

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