LONDON (Reuters) - South African winger Bryan Habana and flyhalf Handre Pollard fell just short in their bids for individual records despite helping the Springboks to a 24-13 win over Argentina in the bronze medal playoff at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.
Habana, who needed one touchdown to set a new outright record for the most tries by a player in World Cups, failed to get over the line in what was almost certainly his last tournament appearance.
Pollard booted four penalties and one conversion to finish with 14 points in the match, taking his total points tally for the tournament to 93, four behind the Argentine flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez who replied with a drop goal, a penalty and a last-minute conversion to remain as the leading pointscorer.
The Springboks, whose coach Heyneke Meyer had described the third-place playoff as akin to ‘kissing your sister’, dominated the game from the outset, finishing with two tries in the match between the two beaten semi-finalists.
“Of course we would have loved to be playing tomorrow for the World Cup but unfortunately things didn’t go our way last week,” said captain Victor Matfield, after his 127th and final appearance.
”Today we knew it would be tough, we have a lot of respect for Argentina and a bronze medal is better than fourth place.
”We’ll go into the changing room and have a beer with Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and the guys I’ve spent so much of my life with.
“It’s been a fantastic career and I‘m just happy we won the game tonight.”
‘HEART RIPPED OUT’
Both teams signalled their intention to run the ball from the outset but were unable to generate much genuine intensity after the disappointment of missing out on the final.
The Springboks, beaten 20-18 by New Zealand, were rewarded with an early try by winger JP Pietersen, his fifth of the tournament, after spurning the chance for a penalty goal when the Pumas scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli was sinbinned for slowing down the play.
Pollard landed the conversion from the touchline and added three more penalties as the Springboks went to the break leading 16-0.
Sanchez opened Argentina’s account just after the re-start with a long-range drop goal but South Africa hit straight back with Habana throwing the last pass to Eben Etzebeth for the big lock to slide over.
Habana, one of six survivors from the Springboks team that won the 2007 World Cup, had his chances to score, failing to ground a kick in goal then knocking on with the line wide open, but was unable to add to his tally of 15 tries before he was taken off 12 minutes from time, leaving him level with former New Zealand colossus Jonah Lomu.
Sanchez and Pollard traded penalties before the Pumas, who probed all night without ever really looking like breaking through, got a reward for their efforts when Juan Pablo Orlandi was driven over right in the final move of the match.
“Looking back we can’t complain, I‘m very proud of the way the team came back after our first game,” Meyer said in reference to the Springboks’ shock group stage defeat by Japan.
“I‘m proud of the guys because it was a tough week, probably a tougher week than after Japan. After missing out on the final you feel like you heart’s been ripped out.”
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade was frustrated with his side’s performance.
“We didn’t play well today, we were dominated by South Africa, we’re not happy but I’m very proud with the team’s commitment,” he said.
“The team created chances but couldn’t finish them -- something we did in other matches.”
Editing by Mitch Phillips/Peter Rutherford