South Africa captain Fourie du Preez’s try five minutes from time hauled the Springboks past Wales 23-19 in a thrilling World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Wales led 19-18 when Preez, cajoled out of Test retirement by coach Heyneke Meyer, burst down the blindside off the back of a close-range scrum after a superb pass from No 8 Duane Vermeulen.
Springbok wing Bryan Habana moved inside to draw Welsh marker Alex Cuthbert with him, and du Preez surged into the gap.
Fly-half Handre Pollard scored all of two-time world champions South Africa’s other points in the brutal, see-saw contest.
“It was a tough game, they came hard at us,” Du Preez said.
“We just said to ourselves ‘keep pushing, keep pushing’. At one stage I saw some of the guys lying down and I told the guys ‘look we have to go and fight now’ and the guys produced.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland was downcast. “At the start the boys gave everything. They just weren’t good enough to hang on in the last few minutes.”
Du Preez’s score gave South Africa a four-point lead and that meant Wales, with goal-kicking fly-half Dan Biggar off the field for a head injury assessment, needed a try to regain the lead.
Biggar had a fine match, kicking 14 points and setting up Gareth Davies for Wales’ only try.
South Africa recalled JP Pietersen after the winger missed the 64-0 rout of the United States with a knee injury.
Wales brought back tough-tackling flanker Dan Lydiate following their 15-6 pool loss to Australia. Veteran prop Gethin Jenkins returned to the front row.
Gatland blasted Wales before the game for failing to take their chances and they missed an early opportunity on Saturday.
George North powered his way down the left wing only to be tackled short of the line.
The ball was worked across field but, with Morgan in space, Jenkins’ pass sailed over the centre’s head and into touch.
South Africa took the lead through Pollard’s eighth-minute penalty as English referee Wayne Barnes penalised Wales for not rolling away at the breakdown. Pollard made it 6-0 minutes later.
Wales, with Roberts charging hard, won a penalty in front of the posts and Biggar made no mistake.
Pollard restored South Africa’s six-point advantage but Wales hit back with an 18th minute try.
Biggar launched a high kick, beat South Africa full-back Willie le Roux to the ball and then released Davies for a try which Biggar converted to make it 10-9 to Wales.
But Pollard’s fourth penalty put the Springboks 12-10 ahead.
Biggar, however, was on target with a drop-goal in the final play of the first half to edge Wales into a 13-12 lead at the break.
Early in the second half, 2011 semi-finalists Wales were penalised for pulling down a maul only for Pollard to miss his first goal-kick of the match.
Burger conceded a 46th-minute penalty for obstruction and Biggar’s long-range effort from near the half-way line sailed over to make it 16-12 to Wales.
Pollard’s drop-goal cut a tiring Wales’ lead to 16-15 before he missed a 41-metre penalty.
South Africa won another penalty heading into the final quarter and Pollard from out wide on the left, nudged the Springboks into an 18-16 lead.
From the re-start, however, South Africa were off their feet at a ruck and Biggar edged Wales ahead at 19-18 until du Preez struck.