Australia edges South Africa 11-9 in quarterfinal
Updated: October 09, 2011, 04:22
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) Winger James O'Connor landed a 71st-minute penalty as Australia rallied to beat South Africa 11-9 in an incredibly intense Rugby World Cup quarterfinal on Sunday, ending the title defense of an aging Springboks squad.
Peter de Villiers said after the match that his Springboks coaching career is over and described the mood in the dressing room of the deposed world champions as "three notches lower than a funeral.''
"The guys are quiet,'' he said. "There's not a very good mood in there.''
O'Connor's 30-meter goal retrieved the lead for Australia, which had been ahead 8-3 at halftime with a try to its captain James Horwill but which had fallen behind under relentless pressure through the second half.
Springboks flyhalf Morne Steyn kicked a penalty and a dropped goal to give South Africa a 9-8 lead after 59 minutes, a sniff of victory, before O'Connor rewarded a valiant Wallabies defensive performance with the winning goal.
"I think not everything went our way tonight and we put ourselves under a lot of pressure but one thing that you can't teach and you can't train is effort and commitment from the group,'' Horwill said. "And every member of the team showed a hell of a lot of both of those.''
Australia soaked up unrelenting pressure from the Springboks throughout the second half as it sought to preserve first its 8-3 lead, then an 8-6 lead when Steyn kicked a 54th minute penalty. Even when it fell behind by a point to Steyn's 40-meter dropped goal, the will, the courage and the composure of the young Australian team didn't break.
They rallied. They forced themselves into South African territory for one of a few occasions in the second half and when the Springboks committed an error of discipline under pressure, the Wallabies snatched their chance for victory.
Even at the bitter end of a match which was gripping from start to finish, Australia made the tackles, forced the turnovers, won the inches of ground which turned the match in its favor and ended South Africa's World Cup reign.
It leaves Australia as the only team in the tournament who can win a third World Cup title this time.
The match likely ends the careers of many of the Springboks' veterans who strove so hard on Sunday to keep their World Cup defense alive: the captain John Smit who played 49 minutes in his 110th test on Sunday and his 17th straight World Cup match.
"It's sad. You're never prepared for when it ends,'' Smit said. "You want it to be in a final, with a win. But I'd be silly to take my seven years (with the Springboks) and judge it on what happened today. I'm proud of today, it's another chapter. I'm proud of the guys with which I've played.''
Another who will retire after this match will be lock Victor Matfield, whom Smit described as "the greatest Springbok there's ever been.''
Perhaps the most prominent player for South Africa on Sunday was flanker Schalk Burger, who carried the ball into contact fearlessly throughout the match, and who made desperate tackles and fought for the supply of loose ball through which the Springboks hoped to apply its game of pressure and territory.
Flanker David Pocock equally played a massive role in Australia's victory, forcing a steady succession of turnovers from a South African pack which was willing, physical but sometimes sluggish in the breakdown contest. His was the decisive performance in the match.
"David Pocock's game was remarkable and it was better than he got credit for,'' Australia coach Robbie Deans said.
South Africa was handicapped in losing its star fetcher in the loose, flanker Heinrich Brussow, and therefore its counter to Pocock, who was voted player of the match.
In a sense, the match saw the passing of the former champion, the aging Springboks, and the arrival of the young Australians who came of age in a test of individual character.
"What you saw was the most experienced World Cup side in the world really turn the screws on the young Wallabies,'' Deans said. "The boys came of age in the way they accepted that challenge and stood up to it.''
After a shaky start, Cooper recovered his poise to put a searching kick behind the South African defense in the 11th minute which bounced into touch 10 meters out. South Africa won the lineout, untidily, and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez found the willing Burger to take the ball heavily into contact.
It was almost immediately dislodged, ejected from a forming breakdown and was recovered by No. 8 Radike Samo, who fed center Pat McCabe near the posts. McCabe twisted in the tackle and handed off to Horwill, who crashed over near the left upright.
O'Connor missed a handy conversion but was successful four minutes later with a penalty when Habana handled the ball at a breakdown near the posts.
Steyn attempted only three penalties in the first half, the first from 50 meters out in the 27th minute which drifted just wide of the posts and the last, with time up, from 55 meters and the left side of halfway. Steyn's second penalty attempt from 24 meters was successful and cut Australia's halftime margin to five.
South Africa began the second half anchored in the Australian half, working the ball through phases, probing for a defensive weakness. It finally found one when center Jean de Villiers stepped through a tackle and passed to fullback Patrick Lambie, who strode over but the Springboks were called back for a forward pass.
The Springboks built pressure relentlessly but Australia's defense was equal to the threat. Eventually, South Africa was forced to take points from a Steyn penalty and then to resort to the dropped goal.
"We went in at halftime saying we needed to hold onto the ball, get through phases,'' Smit said. "We did that, we were patient. A couple of missed opportunities - a drop kick, a try with Fourie, that forward pass to Paddy - we did enough to win this game but weren't accurate enough.''
Fourie came close to scoring but spilled the ball near the line, again as a result of taut defense, as Australia saw off threat after threat. Having defended its line fearlessly and for so long, the Wallabies were equally happy to take the penalty when it came, giving them their second win over South Africa in World Cup knockout games.
"I said to the boys in the dressing room that while some of us may not play again, I want those who do to remember how terrible it feels to lose out and take that forward into your career with the Springboks,'' Smit said. "It's the first time I've lost the match on the scoreboard and won it everywhere else from a stats point of view, which makes it even harder to accept.''
Australia 11 (James Horwill try; James O'Connor 3 penalties), South Africa 9 (Morne Steyn 2 penalties, dropped goal). HT: 8-3.