LONDON (Reuters) - South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer was proud of the way his players picked themselves up from the depths of despair after their semi-final defeat to overwhelm Argentina 24-13 in the Rugby World Cup’s third-place playoff on Friday.
Moments after losing to New Zealand last weekend, Meyer said the prospect of playing in the bronze final was like “kissing your sister” but the Springboks changed their tune during the week and gave their all at a sold-out Olympic Stadium.
“What I meant was that if you drop your standards as a coach and you’re happy with third then you shouldn’t be a coach of South Africa,” he said after being reminded of his comment.
”I felt bad afterwards, I didn’t mean it like that ... but after missing out on the final you feel like your heart’s been ripped out.
”We could have gone one of two ways -- pear-shaped or stick together. We chose to stick together and I‘m so proud of what I still think is the best team in the world.
“Today was just a relief. In my heart I still think we should be playing tomorrow. But looking back we can’t complain and I‘m very proud of the way the team came back after our first game. It was probably a tougher week than after Japan,” Meyer added in reference to the shock group stage defeat.
It was an emotional night too for Victor Matfield, the 38-year-old lock captaining the side in his 127th and last appearance having been tempted out of retirement by Meyer.
”When he asked me to come back it was a difficult decision,“ said Matfield. ”Last week ... I was not sure but after tonight and the last seven weeks it was the right thing.
”After that Japan game something special happened with this team.
“Argentina are a fantastic team but I think we shut them out and played fantastically.”
Matfield is part of a core group of Springboks likely to be retiring after the tournament but Meyer said the future still looked bright.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant but some of the most exciting young players are South African and in another year they will be a different team so I really hope we can keep them together,” he added.
Editing by Peter Rutherford