Wales has been knocked out of the semifinals of the Rugby World Cup by France by a margin of just one point after captain Sam Warburton was sent off in a controversial and dramatic semi-final showdown with France.
The final score stood at Wales 8, France 9 after an extremely close match.
Warburton was sent off early in the match, leaving Wales with 14 men and without a captain for more than an hour against France.
Warburton, one of the form players of the tournament, was red carded in the 18th minute by referee Alain Rolland for a dangerous, lifting tackle on French winger Vincent Clerc.
Bidding to reach the World Cup final for the first time, it was a severe setback for Wales after it had already lost veteran prop Adam Jones after 10 minutes with a knee injury.
All red cards issued at the World Cup lead to an automatic judical hearing.
Warburton, who turned 23 last week, was awarded the Wales captaincy by coach Warren Gatland shortly before the World Cup began when hooker Matthew Rees was ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.
Though his appointment was seen as a surprise by Welsh fans, he made an immediate impact on the captaincy, leading the team with a quiet intensity, more by example than by words.
His performances as an openside flanker throughout the World Cup have been of a regularly high standard, earning comparison with New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Australia's David Pocock, the best players in that position.
Warburton has always been a powerful tackler and a physical presence in loose play. He caught Clerc on Saturday trying to find a gap on the narrow side of a breakdown, hit the lightly-framed French winger low down, lifting him then dropping him on his back.
Rugby's rules around lifting tackles require a player who has raised an opponent off the ground in a tackle to ensure he is safely returned to the ground.
Warburton is the 16th player to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup match and the second at the current tournament after Samoa fullback Paul Williams. Williams was contentiously dismissed for striking during his team's pool match against South Africa.
The only other Welsh player to have been shown a red card at a World Cup is lock Huw Richards, who was sent off in the semifinal loss to New Zealand on the same ground in 1987.
Warburton lifted Clerc and did not drive him into the ground, but Rolland ruled it was worthy of a red card - the second Welshman to be sent off in a World Cup.
At half-time, the decision was met with widespread disapproval.
Covering the game for ITV, South Africa's former world-cup winning captain Francois Pienaar said: "It was a dangerous tackle, yes. A penalty, yes. Never a red card.
"Sam Warburton has been one of the cleanest players at the World Cup. He (Rolland) has killed the game. I'm livid.
"It is dangerous, but this is a World Cup semi-final with all the world watching. You have all the technology at your disposal, why not go to the video referee or ask your touch judge?"
Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio added: "Alain Rolland has refereed all over the world and did the last final. He is supposed to be one of the best referees in the world...."
Law 10.4 on 'spear tackles' reads: "It is dangerous play to lift a player from the ground and drop or drive that player into the ground whilst that that player's feet are still off the ground so that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground."
A directive was also issued to referees before the tournament, relating to such tackles, which stated: "Foul play - high tackles, grabbing and twisting of the head and tip tackles to be emphasised, with referees to start at red and work backwards."
Parra opened the second half with a chipped drop-goal attempt which dropped wide but France had increased their intensity in a bid to make full use of the extra man.
Halfpenny dealt expertly with a bomb from Medard before Parra carved through a gaping hole in the French line but Alun Wyn Jones' tackle dislodged the ball and Faletau dived on it.
France changed two in the front row after 44 minutes and Wales sent on Stephen Jones for the disappointing Hook in an early but significant tactical call.
Wales continued to sap up the French pressure and were penalised for dragging down a driving maul, Parra extending the lead to 9-3 with a touchline strike.
Stephen Jones' raking clearance and a strong chase earned Wales a prime platform and they attacked from clean lineout ball, with Roberts and then Faletau driving it up.
Phillips then attacked the blindside, beating both French locks to score the opening try of the match and bring Wales storming right back into the game.
Jones missed the conversion but Wales came again, with Faletau scooping up a loose ball and charging upfield.
Jones made a hash of his left-foot drop-goal attempt but Wales won a scrum feed right on the French 22.
Wales were in control. Jones sent France back into the own 22 and Medard delayed the clearance, taking a risk by side-stepping a flying challenge from Jonathan Davies before kicking.
Jones was on the field for his game control and he sent a beautiful kick dribbling into touch, which kept France pinned back deep in their own territory.
Roberts crashed the ball up again, Faletau drove it forward but the ball was dropped as Jones waited for the drop goal attempt.
Strangely, the Scarlets fly-half then turned down an opportunity for a shot at goal and stood flat, hit it up and he knocked it on in the tackle.
Still Wales had chances. Nicolas Mas was penalised on halfway for hitting a ruck from the side but Halfpenny's long-range strike slid agonisingly under the posts.
Wales had one last chance. They attacked for over 25 phases in a bid to create platform for Jones to try a drop goal but the French defence held firm on their own 10 metre line and a knock-on brought the final whistle.
Final Score: Wales 8- France 9
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies