Wales captain Sam Warburton had a stark reminder of the darkest moment in his short rugby career when he was forced to sit next to Vincent Clerc on his departing flight from New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup.

Warburton was infamously sent-off his side's semifinal clash against France for tip-tackling Clerc in just the 18th minute of the match.

France went onto win the match 9-8, denying Wales a maiden appearance in the World Cup final.

Warburton, who remained in Auckland for the IRB Awards dinner that followed the tournament, explained to a British newspaper how strange it was to find himself sitting next to Clerc on a flight to Brisbane.


"It was unbelievable," he told the Independent.

"There must have been 10 flights out of Auckland that day but not only was I on the same plane as the French boys, but I was next to him," recalled Warburton.

"I was one of the last on to the plane and as I threw my bag into the over-head locker some of the French lads were sniggering because they could see what was happening.

"Vincent and I just looked at each other for a second and I thought, 'This could be really awkward'. But we shook hands and he asked me for a massage, which really broke the ice. That was the only time we mentioned the tackle.

"We just chatted about stuff in general, he's a good guy."

Following the send off Warburton said he feared a public backlash similar to David Beckham and Wayne Rooney who suffered red card shame at soccer World Cups.

"Thankfully I haven't had any hassle since I came home. People have congratulated me on how well Wales played."

The Welsh camp blasted referee Alain Rolland for days following the semifinal, claiming the dangerous tackle wasn't worthy of a red card and the Irishman acted too hastily.

But Warburton, serving a three-week ban that ends this weekend, said today he can't complain about Rolland's decision.


"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," Warburton said.

"I can't complain. There was no point in appealing against it and I didn't have a leg to stand on really."

Immediately after the semi-final, Warburton believed he'd committed "a normal tackle." But on 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.

"When I looked at it on the replays it looked worse than I thought it was."

The International Rugby Board supported Rolland for upholding the law about tip tackles, but Rolland has been overlooked for refereeing any of Wales' matches in the Six Nations next year.

Warburton hopes to hold onto the captaincy in the face of the return to fitness of Matthew Rees.

Rees was to lead Wales at the World Cup until he withdrew before the event with a neck injury. He returned to action for his club last weekend and said he'd like to be national skipper again.

Coach Warren Gatland will choose between them before Wales' last outing of the year against Australia on December 3 at Millennium Stadium.