An injury to tighthead prop Adam Jones followed by a red card for captain Sam Warburton inside the opening 20 minutes cost Wales any chance of advancing to their first rugby World Cup final on Saturday.
The Welsh scored the only try of the game but, playing with 14 men for 60 minutes, lost 9-8 to France at Eden Park.
Jones, 30, had been impressive in the opening exchanges, putting pressure on Jean-Baptiste Poux. With loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins doing the same against Nicolas Mas, the Welsh looked to have a platform from which to attack the French ball and put them under pressure.
Warburton's dismissal by referee Alain Rolland less than 10 minutes later, when he made a dangerous tackle on France winger Vincent Clerc, ended their hopes of dominating the scrums or using it as an attacking platform themselves.
The decision forced inside centre Jamie Roberts to pack down in the scrum on their own feed, depriving them of his powerful running in the midfield that had given his side a front-foot target throughout the tournament.
Warburton's dismissal also sucked all of the energy out of the match and many in the crowd of 58,629 were waiting for France to deliver the killer blow.
The twice World Cup runners-up, so often brilliant with the ball in hand, however seemed bereft of ideas and any attacking thrust with their only tactic seemingly the high kick either by scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili or fullback Maxime Medard.
The absence of Warburton also allowed France's loose forward trio to slow the ball down at the breakdown with the veteran number eight Imanol Harinordoquy an absolute nuisance, getting his hands on the ball or by counter rucking over it.
Captain Thierry Dusautoir and Julien Bonnaire were then able to organise the defence around the fringes and drive back the Wales' ball carriers either behind or on the advantage line, with the dangerous number eight Toby Faletau and Roberts threatening but never really breaching the line.
Wales, who had gone through the pool phase playing an attacking style of rugby and had scored 26 tries in the tournament, failed to capitalise on their wealth of possession and territory while flyhalf James Hook was also jittery and did not take control of the game. He was replaced by Stephen Jones early in the second half.
Jones, however, playing his 103rd test, had been recuperating from a long term calf injury during the tournament and fallen behind Rhys Priestland in the pecking order.
The 33-year-old appeared rusty, drifting laterally and cramping his outside backs in the latter stages of the second half.
France, who tackled themselves to a standstill when they upset New Zealand in the 2007 quarter-finals, were again superb in defence, making 126 tackles, to Wales' 56.
The French, however, missed 12 tackles, one of which by lock Pascal Pape on scrumhalf Mike Phillips allowed him to scoot over and score a try that brought Wales back to 9-8. Jones missed the conversion which could have won the match.
Wales hammered away at the French line for more than 25 phases with little gain and were driven back 10 metres, before they finally turned the ball over to send France into their third World Cup final.
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