Thousands watch World Cup defeat at Millennium Stadium

Wales narrowly lost their Rugby World Cup semi-final 9-8 to France, after playing an hour with only 14 men.

More than 61,500 fans watched the tense occasion in New Zealand on big screens at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was a "brave display" and the team had "raised the nation's spirits to new levels with their performances".

The match hinged on the controversial sending off of captain Sam Warburton on 18 minutes for a dangerous tackle.

Coach Warren Gatland said afterwards: "I feel hollow. I feel our destiny was taken away from us in that minute."

Fans had snapped up free tickets to watch the Cardiff screening of the match in Auckland.

The WRU installed a giant 100 sq metre screen on the pitch, along with the stadium's two permanent large screens.

Initially, 25,000 tickets were released, but organisers released tens of thousands more when the huge demand became clear.

The attendance was given by the WRU as 61,543 - a bigger crowd than those watching the actual match at Eden Park.

Image caption A dejected Ryan Jones (left) and Jamie Roberts after Wales narrowly lose

Despite scoring the game's only try, Wales missed out as the conversion agonisingly hit the post, while a long-range penalty was kicked narrowly wide at the end.

After the match, fan Chris Dickens, 29, from Swansea, said: "Wales played like heroes.

"It's a tragedy we won't be in the final next weekend, when we really deserved to be. The scenes at the Millennium Stadium were amazing though. Does make you proud to be Welsh."

South Wales Police said there were two arrests for possession of controlled substances, both inside the stadium, but no public disorder issues.

Around 1,000 also watched on a big screen in Swansea's Castle Square and at hundreds of pubs and rugby clubs across the country which opened early.

One of those was at the Fox and Hounds Inn in Bancyfelin, Carmarthenshire.

Despite having a population of fewer than 300, two of the Welsh squad - scrum-half Mike Phillips and centre Jonathan Davies - come from the village.

Posters of the pair were put up at the village school, post office, the pub and every lamppost and notice board.

Phillips scored a second-half try, which led to a wave of optimism that Wales, despite being a man short, could fight their way back from only a point behind the French.

Image caption A three year old girl still holding the flag after the defeat

In Wrexham, traditionally a more "football town", people were also up early.

Student Andrew Davies, 24, said: "I'm not usually into rugby, as most people aren't up here, but everyone has been buzzing about the match.

"It's the same kind of excitement you used to get at as a child at Christmas."

Meanwhile, the match was followed across the UK and abroad, with celebrity fans also posting on Twitter, as Wales tried to make up for Warburton's sending off.

TV presenter Dan Snow added: "At Waterloo the Commander of the Royal Welch was killed but the Welsh stood like a rock and saw off the French cavalry. It can be done!"

Singer Katherine Jenkins tweeted after Wales's try gave hope of a comeback: "I officially love Mike Phillips", but then said "she wanted to cry" after the match.

Manic Street Preachers bass player Nicky Wire said despite everything it was still one of the "greatest performances" he had ever seen by a Welsh side.

Comedian Rob Brydon tweeted: "Just put my cereal bowl down with a thud. No doubt worthy of a red card in the eyes of this ref".

Former Wales player Rupert Moon tweeted after the game: "So proud! The world now knows for sure what Wales stands for! Huge passion! Desire! Respect! Honour in defeat! Cymru am byth!"

Members of the Queen's Dragoon Guards, on a tour of Afghanistan, watched the match from Camp Bastion.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said after the match: "We can be tremendously proud of what this Welsh team has achieved during this World Cup.

"Although I know they will be feeling the disappointment of losing in the semi final more keenly than us fans, they have raised the nation's spirits to new levels with their performances, particularly today's brave display when we played with 14 men for an hour and still came so close.

"We remain 100% behind them and will be cheering them on as they seek to emulate their 1987 counterparts, and equal our best ever finish in the World Cup, by securing third place on Friday."

Image caption Soldiers from the Queen's Dragoon Guards - known as the Welsh cavalry - support Wales in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan

The Welsh flag flew above Number 10 Downing Street during the match.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said before the match: "This is the biggest game for Wales in over 20 years and it has been heartening to see the outpouring of support for the Welsh team, not just in Wales but across the UK."

Before the game, she said the Wales team would "return as heroes," whatever the result.

Meanwhile, Millennium Stadium management said they were looking to open up for a screening again next Friday, when Wales will play New Zealand or Australia in the play-off for third place (08:30 BST kick off).

"It's our intention is open again," said general manager Gerry Toms.

"We need to, that's the way we feel about it, we are going to support the lads, so we will have another crowd here on Friday so we will have a day off tomorrow, perhaps a beer tonight, and then we will start all over again."

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