LONDON, 17 Oct - South Africa captain Fourie du Preez snatched the Springboks a 23-19 quarter-final victory over Wales with a try five minutes before the end which his coach Heyneke Meyer described as"pure genius".
With Wales leading 19-18 and poised for only their third victory against the Springboks in 109 years, number eight Duane Vermeulen broke away blindside from a scrum near the Welsh 22-metre line and threw an audacious pass behind his back to scrum-half du Preez, who sprinted to the corner to touch down.
The clever move, which the Springboks had been rehearsing all week on the training field, secured South Africa a place in a semi-final against either New Zealand and France, who meet in Saturday's later quarter-final.
"I would like to kiss Fourie. I have always said coaching is overrated. You have to pick players with character and who perform under pressure," Meyer said. "That try was just pure genius."
The Springboks, who began the tournament with a shock loss to Japan, proved they have developed a fighting character during this tournament to turn the match around.
Fly-half Handre Pollard set the foundations for the South African victory with 18 points from his boot, after a first–half try from scrum-half Gareth Davies and 14 points from goalkicker Dan Biggar had put Wales within reach of one of the biggest victories in their history.
Biggar had to watch the last seven minutes on the touchline after he was taken off for a head injury assessment. The fly-half had been inspirational for Wales, setting up the try which secured a 13-12 half-time lead.
As expected, the match was an intensely physical encounter that featured two contrasting styles of play, with South Africa attacking largely through their powerful forwards while Wales tried to move the ball wide with their backs as often as possible.
Welsh indiscipline helped South Africa to an early 9-3 lead courtesy of three penalties from Pollard, but in the 18th minute Biggar's brilliance gave Wales their only try.
The fly-half put up a high kick on the half-way line, raced ahead and caught it on the Springbok 22-metre line, before squeezing a brilliant pass to Davies on his right to score near the posts. After a fourth Pollard penalty restored the Springboks' advantage, a long-range drop goal from Biggar secured Wales a one-point lead at the break.
South Africa missed an opportunity to regain the lead at the start of the second half when Pollard missed a penalty attempt, before a 45-metre effort from Biggar stretched the Wales lead to 16-12.
The Springboks applied all the pressure in the third quarter of the match, running multi-phase attacks through their pack. However, Wales defended superbly and South Africa’s only reward for a dominant period of play was a Pollard drop-goal.
The Springbok fly-half missed a second penalty kick, while his fifth success from the tee was matched by Biggar to keep the Welsh one point ahead at 19-18 with 10 minutes remaining.
But with Biggar off the pitch and the Welsh tiring, South Africa kept up the pressure before seizing their winning try in clinical fashion, du Preez (pictured above celebrating) crossing the line in the 75th minute for the match-winning touchdown.
"We are absolutely gutted. I am proud of the performance of the guys," Wales coach Warren Gatland said. "The boys gave everything, emptied their tanks but we just weren't good enough to hold on for 80 minutes."