Auckland - Wales coach Warren Gatland slammed referee Alain Rolland's decision
to send off skipper Sam Warburton against France here on Saturday,
saying it had cost his team a place in the Rugby World Cup final.
Wales, down to 14 men for more than an hour, nearly
pulled off a stunning victory, scoring the only try of the match through
scrum-half Mike Phillips, before France held out for a 9-8 win on the
back of three Morgan Parra penalties.
But the turning point of the match came in the 19th
minute when Irish official Rolland, the 2007 World Cup final referee,
showed flanker Warburton a red card for a 'tip tackle' on Vincent Clerc
that saw the France wing lifted into the air and then land on his head.
"We just feel like the destiny of the result was taken out of our
hands with the red card," Gatland said after a sending off that took
place with Wales 3-0 up.
"He's lifted him, that's a yellow card, but he's not
driven him into the ground. Does that mean every time there's a tackle
where you lift someone off the ground it's a red card?
"Why spoil the semi-final with a red card? He's not a
dirty player. I'm just gutted. We were down to 14 but we showed great
character and I'm proud of our efforts.
"I feel let down, I thought this team were good enough to go on and
take the final but it was not to be," the New Zealander insisted.
"We just feel that ultimately the result wasn't in our control."
A dejected Warburton said: "I'm gutted but there was no malicious intent.
"I felt like as soon as it hit him his bodyweight took
control of what happened I thought it was a normal tackle, next thing I
was walking off into the stands," added Warburton who praised the
resilience of his team-mates.
"The courage and bravery the lads showed was second to none."
Openside flanker Warburton, 23, won widespread acclaim
for leading Wales into only their second World Cup semi-final but he
could now be banned from next week's third place playoff against either
New Zealand or Australia.
Warburton's red card means the bright new face of Welsh
rugby will forever have his name linked with that of the infamous Huw
Richards, the first Wales player to be sent off at a World Cup.
For Wales there was horrible sense of history repeating
itself as Richards was red-carded in their only previous semi-final, at
the inaugural 1987 edition.
Then, as now, Richards was dismissed in a losing cause
after punching New Zealand's Gary Whetton late on in the All Blacks'
49-6 win in Brisbane.
Kevin Moseley was the last Wales player to be sent off, against France in 1990.
Warburton's red card was only the second of this World
Cup after Samoa fullback Paul Williams was ordered off for punching
South Africa flanker Heinrich Brussow.