Sam Warburton tryFrance battled to a place in the final of Rugby World Cup 2011 with a 9-8 win over a brave Wales side, who never recovered from the first-half sending-off of their inspirational captain Sam Warburton.

The 23-year-old flanker was given his marching orders after 18 minutes for a tip tackle on wing Vincent Clerc.

Until then his team, playing their first semi-final for 24 years, were in command, despite the earlier loss through injury of veteran prop Adam Jones, and well worth their three-point lead.

But after their skipper’s departure they were unable to halt the march of the French, who slowly built an unassailable lead through the boot of Morgan Parra.

Although a try on the hour by scrum half Mike Phillips gave Wales hope, France, playing in their fifth successive semi-final, were able to withstand a spirited fightback.

Greasy surface

After a heavy shower minutes before kick-off, handling was difficult and there were several errors in the opening minutes.

Wales opened the scoring when Hook, standing in for injured fly half Rhys Priestland, kicked a penalty from out wide on the left after seven minutes.

Shortly after they lost prop Jones, playing in his 75th Test for his country, to a calf injury. He was replaced by Paul James.

But the scrum held firm and produced a penalty in front of the posts in the 10th minute, only for Hook to slip on the greasy surface in the act of kicking and the ball sailed wide of the posts.

Wales centre Jamie Roberts breached the French line in the 15th minute but as he crossed the opposition 22-metre line his attempted pass flew into the face of midfield partner Jonathan Davies.

Warburton, bidding to lead Wales into their first Rugby World Cup final, got his marching orders from referee Alain Rolland for the tackle on France wing Vincent Clerc.

Numerical advantage

As the Wales scrum came under pressure Parra converted a penalty to draw the scores level after 21 minutes.

He was on target with another penalty 12 minutes later for a 6-3 lead at the interval.

After the restart, France attempted to assert themselves but an early drop-goal attempt by Parra went wide.

In the 45th minute Wales replaced Hook with Stephen Jones, playing his 103rd Test for his country, as they attempted to use his experienced boot to counter France’s numerical advantage.

But a third Parra penalty stretched the lead to 9-3 and France seemd happy to rest on that slender advantage before Wales suddenly struck.

After a determined build-up by his forwards, scrum half Mike Phillips pounced from a breakdown, bursting the tackle and sprinting 20m for a try, which fly half Jones was unable to convert.

Trailing just 9-8, Wales sensed an historic victory and pushed forward again. But their depleted pack was struggling at the lineouts and being squeezed at the breakdown.

Full back Leigh Halfpenny was just inches short with a penalty attempt from the halfway line with only five minutes remaining.

Although Wales desperately tried to get into a position for a drop goal at the death, the France defence held firm.