South Africa (16) 24
Tries: Pietersen, Etzebeth
Penalties: Pollard 4
Argentina (0) 13
Drop goals: Sanchez
South Africa ended their Rugby World Cup campaign in winning fashion by securing their first ever third place finish with a routine win over Argentina in the bronze final at the Olympic Stadium, but Bryan Habana failed to break Jonah Lomu's try-scoring record in a frustrating night for the Springboks winger. JP Pietersen and Eben Etzebeth scored in either half, and though replacement Juan Pablo Orlandi went over late on, Heyneke Meyer's side prevailed against a visibly jaded Pumas side who lacked the panache which had defined their route to the semi-final.
The penultimate game of the tournament was all set up for Habana to score his 16th World Cup try but the Toulon wing butchered several chances in the first half to remain level with Lomu and one ahead of Australia's Drew Mitchell - who can take the record for himself in the final on Saturday [31 October] against New Zealand. Handre Pollard kicked four penalties and a conversion but Nicolas Sanchez remains the highest scoring player in the tournament after a drop goal, a penalty and a conversion in the second half moved him to 97 points.
But a game which neither side wanted to be involved in, and lacked the impetus and a competitive spirit which had defined a record-breaking competition in England, acted as a swansong for a host of South Africa players including Habana, Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield - who were all substituted after the break. The tournament will be given a deserved fitting finale when the All Blacks and the Wallabies go in search of a third title in a clash between the number one and number two sides in the world, following a game which lacked life from the outset.
Less than 24 hours before the main event at Twickenham, South Africa and Argentina went head-to-head in the most inconsequential fixture of the tournament to decide who would have the ignominy of finishing third in the eighth edition of the showcase tournament. Defeats to New Zealand and Australia ensured both sides were playing for just pride, though they could have been forgiven for being demotivated after their title prospects were dashed last weekend.
Meyer had described the game as like "kissing your sister" but yet the contest marked the end of the international careers of several Springboks favourites including designated captain Matfield, while Habana was chasing a record 16th World Cup try. The Pumas meanwhile, third place finishers in 2007, had been decimated by injury against the Wallabies but Sanchez could restore some pride by cementing his position as the highest points scorer of the tournament.
Ill-discipline had hamstrung Argentina in their last four defeat and that trend continued inside five minutes as Tomas Cubelli was sin-binned from the first infringement of the game. The numerical advantage told immediately as Pietersen went over the corner and South Africa should have had a second but history evaded Habana when he fumbled Willie le Roux's kick through.
In stark contrast to their route through to the semi-final, Argentina were struggling to make yards but Cubelli - back on after his 10-minute absence - did force his way through but more ineffectual handling saw the opportunity disappear. The same fate would also befall Habana, who failed to rein in Pollard's sumptuous pass with the line at his mercy.
Habana's desperation to usurp Lomu as the Rugby World Cup's most proficient try-scorer then saw him fall dramatically in pursuit of his own kick during a foot race with Sanchez. The 32-year-old would end the half empty handed but two Pollard penalties meant the two-time champions were 16-0 to the good.
Sanchez got the South American side on the board within two minutes of the restart with an instinctive drop goal but any hopes their first points of the game would inspire a second half comeback were grossly over-exaggerated. The 1995 and 2007 champions won a turnover inside the Argentina half which saw Etzebeth take advantage to score his second international try, despite Habana's forward looking off-load in the build-up which went unchecked by the television match official
The testimonial feel of the occasion was summed up when Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Burger and Matfield all received standing evasions upon being substituted before the hour mark, as the trio took their leave from the pinnacle of their sport. Sanchez curiously cut the deficit from the floor, enhancing his own chances of finishing the tournament as the leading points scorer but it was the exit of Habana which extinguished genuine interest in the game, as his removal in the 67th minute all but ends his pursuit of Lomu. Replacement Orlandi ensured Argentina would end their campaign with some respectability with a late try, to the approval of a partisan crowd, a score which would rub salt further in the wound of Habana.
South Africa: 15. Willie le Roux, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Damian De Allende, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Handré Pollard, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Tendai Mtawarira, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 3. Frans Malherbe, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Victor Matfield, 6. Francois Louw, 7. Schalk Burger , 8. Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: 16. Adriaan Strauss, 17. Trevor Nyakane, 18. Jannie du Plessis, 19. Lodewyk de Jager, 20. Willem Alberts, 21. Rudy Paige, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Jan Serfontein.
Argentina: 15. Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14. Santiago Cordero, 13. Matias Moroni, 12. Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11. Horacio Agulla, 10. Nicolas Sanchez, 9. Tomas Cubelli; 1. Juan Figallo, 2. Julian Montoya, 3. Ramiro Herrera, 4. Matias Alemanno, 5. Tomas Lavanini, 6. Javier Ortega Desio , 7. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 8. Juan Manuel Leguizamon
Replacements: 16. Lucas Noguera, 17. Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18. Santiago Garcia Botta, 19. Guido Petti, 20. Facundo Isa, 21. Martin Landajo, 22. Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23. Juan Pablo Socino.