South African great Bryan Habana was denied a World Cup record as the Springboks beat Argentina 24-13 in the playoff for third, with several of their veteran stars bidding farewell to Test rugby.
Habana needed just one try to break the World Cup career record of 15 he shares with retired New Zealand star Jonah Lomu.
But in what is likely to be the 32-year-old winger’s final World Cup match, Habana squandered several chances before being taken off in the 67th minute by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
Habana’s fellow wing JP Pietersen and lock Eben Etzebeth, from a Habana pass, did score tries at London’s Olympic Stadium on Friday.
Fly-half Handre Pollard kicked 14 points as South Africa, who started the tournament with a shock defeat by Japan, finished third as they did in 1999.
Springbok flanker Schalk Burger, captain for the day Victor Matfield and then Habana, all world champions in 2007, were replaced in the second half to a standing applause from a crowd of more than 55,000 as they made their farewells.
“Of course we would have loved to play tomorrow for the World Cup but things didn’t go our way last week,” said Matfield of the 20-18 semi-final loss to New Zealand.
“We have got a lot of respect for Argentina, the way they have played all year. Great Test victory for us, a bronze medal is better than fourth place.”
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade was proud of his side’s fourth place.
“We’re a little bit sad because we wanted everything, but we’ve done very well along the whole of the World Cup,” he said.
It looked like a Nicolas Sanchez drop-goal and penalty would be Argentina’s only scores but replacement front-row Juan Pablo Orlandi scored a converted try in stoppage time.
Sanchez is likely to finish as this World Cup’s leading points scorer with 97 as the only two men left who could overtake him in Saturday’s final, New Zealand’s Dan Carter, and Australia’s Bernard Foley, are still some way behind with 63 and 75 points respectively.
Matfield in his 127th and last Test, led the Springboks in place of scrum-half Fourie du Preez, injured in the defeat by defending champions New Zealand.
The Pumas, looking to equal their best World Cup-placing of third in 2007, made 10, mostly enforced, changes, with skipper Agustin Creevy, winger Juan Imhoff, veteran centre Juan Martin Hernandez and prop Marcos Ayerza all missing.
Sanchez captained the side for the first time in the absence of Creevy, injured in the 29-15 loss to Australia.