Wales went into the 2011 Rugby World Cup semifinal against France full of confidence as they eyed a first ever World Cup final appearance. 19 minutes into the clash a controversial red card derailed their hopes.

Sam Warburton, who was sent from the field that day, will return to Eden Park on Saturday.


19 minutes into the 2011 Rugby World Cup semifinal between Wales and France at Eden Park, Welsh skipper Sam Warburton tip-tackled Vincent Clerc, lifting the French winger off his feet. Irish referee Alain Rolland sent Warburton from the field, leaving Wales with 14 men for the rest of the match.


Most pundits and commentators thought the red card was a harsh decision. Watch the reaction from these two British commentators when they realise it's a sending off and not a yellow as they first thought:



French won 9-8 courtesy of three penalties to first-five eighth Morgan Parra. Wales missed out on their first Rugby World Cup final and ended up finished fourth after losing to Australian in the bronze playoff game.

Warburton was handed a three game ban. Clerc was fit to play in the final against the All Blacks a week later but was substituted in the 47th minute, straight after Stephen Donald put New Zealand up 8-0.


In his match report the the Herald's Gregor Paul wrote: "Maybe the rugby gods have been taken with the French because Les Bleus were dealt a stunning piece of good fortune when Welsh captain Sam Warburton was red carded after 18 minutes. It was a horror decision by referee Alain Rolland _ the skipper was clumsy rather than malicious when he lifted Vincent Clerc off his feet and a yellow would have sufficed."

Defence coach Shaun Edwards backed Warburton days after the semifinal, saying Clerc was too light.

"It was not deliberate what Sam done,'' Edwards said. "I have seen it deliberate where you put your hand underneath, lift him and spin him, and I have had it done to myself and it is horrible. You know it is deliberate when you see someone put the hand underneath the crotch and spin him around and drop him to the floor and basically follow on yourself.

"With Sam, it was a dominant hit as you expect. He was much more powerful than the guy he tackled and he ended up in a position that got him sent off.

"What happened with Sam, in speaking to him, was that he felt the guy was very light in his hands.''

That was exactly what Warburton felt. Speaking at the post-match press conference, Warburton said he was gutted by the decision and that there had been no malicious intent on his part.

"It felt as soon as I hit him his body weight took control of what happened,'' Warburton said. "It was a normal tackle and next thing I know I was walking off into the stand.''

Wales' coach Warren Gatland believed Rolland's biggest fault lay in his haste to wave the red.

"The thing that surprises me is that the reaction of the referee is instant and I thought an experienced referee at that stage would have said `well, hang on a minute, let's bring my two touchies in, let's have a chat','' Gatland said.

"You would have thought they would have had a chance to have a look at the screen, see the replay and perhaps make a cool judgment. But it's just come out of the blue, quickly. We were discussing in the box what's happening and someone said 'he's off!'

"For an experienced referee to make such a quick decision in a semifinal of the World Cup, I just thought that decision ruined the semifinal.''

Warburton did take responsibility though, after watch a video review he'd changed his mind.

"I have seen it played back, the tackle is a lot uglier than I thought it was at the time,'' he said.

"At the end of the day the IRB said if you lift up a player and drop him it's a red card, and that's exactly what I did,'' he said.

"I can't complain.''