South Africa (12) 23
Tries: Du Preez
Penalties: Pollard 5
Drop goals: Pollard
Wales (13) 19
Penalties: Biggar 3
Drop goals: Biggar
Flourie du Preez's 75th minute try proved to be the difference as South Africa outlasted Wales to become the first side to book their place in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup after a thrilling encounter at Twickenham. Dan Biggar kicked 14 points but after going off with a head injury the Springboks took full advantage as captain Du Preez scampered clear on the blindside of a scrum following Duane Vermeulen's fabulous pass to secure a memorable victory.
Biggar looked set to be the hero again for Wales after another faultless display with three penalties and a drop goal, as well as a superb up-and-under to set up Gareth Davies' first half try but his withdrawal coincided with South Africa taking a firm grip on the contest. Handre Pollard kicked 18 points, but two skewed penalties looked set to come back to haunt his team.
Wales had survived mountains of South Africa pressure after going in at half time a point ahead, but it would be via a set-piece that their opportunity to win the game would come. Du Preez collected the ball off the back of the scrum and with Wales' defence committed on the wrong side, he drove into the corner to setup a potential last four clash with New Zealand or France next weekend.
Adversity had stalked South Africa and Wales' respective routes through the pool stage, with injuries and agonising defeats both playing their part. The Boks had recovered from being shocked by Japan on the opening weekend coupled with the retirement of captain Jean de Villiers and injury to inspiration lock Victor Matfield while Wales had suffered numerous injury problems - the latest seeing Liam Williams withdraw - and been denied Pool A top spot after a harrowing loss to Australia.
Heyneke Meyer's side has an imperious record over the Welsh heading into the contest at Twickenham, having lost just two of the pair's 30 meetings since 1906. But last November Warren Gatland's side claimed their first win over the two-time world champions since 1999 and they were hopeful they could catapult themselves into a second straight semi-final in the role as underdogs.
And it would be the fourth place team from 2011 who would impress early on, creating an early overlap which saw George North storm through, only to be stopped three meters from the try line by Bismarck du Plessis. Wales worked the ball across the other wing but despite having another man over Gethin Jenkins failed to find Tyler Morgan.
After soaking up mountains of pressure, South Africa produced a spate of timely scores to thrust them into the ascendancy. Handre Pollard kicked three penalties, two awarded for Wales not rolling away, in the opening quarter of an hour, with Biggar replying to give the favourites a six-point lead.
That advantage was wiped out before the mid-way point in the first half as Wales finally made the territory superiority count as Biggar brilliantly caught his own up and under and found half-back partner Davies who went over with ease. The one-point lead was short lived however as Pollard kicked a fourth penalty straight from the restart.
Though South Africa were living off scraps of possession, constant errors from Wales, particularly at the breakdown, was continually defusing their dominance and threat with the ball in hand. Nevertheless, it would be the ill-disciplined Welsh who would lead at the break as the nerveless Biggar, who had earlier hit the post from the floor, kicked a drop goal in the final action of the half.
Pollard failed to put South Africa back in front from a penalty early in the second half and they were made to pay again by Biggar who made no mistake after Schalk Burger found himself on the wrong side. Pollard scored a drop goal of his own but Wales struck a psychological blow after keeping their opponents at bay after a period of sustained possession.
The pressure continued to ratchet up on the Wales line and though Pollard missed the chance to edge his side in front with a second skewed penalty, Willie Le Roux and then the marginslised Bryan Habana almost slalomed their way through with rare solo runs. Pollard did make it third time luck to put his side in front, but Biggar responded in kind to set up a tense last 15 minutes.
But via a miscalculation from the Welsh defence which saw them commit on the openside of scrum, South Africa grabbed the critical score with five minutes remaining. Du Preez surprised everyone by collecting the ball from the base of the scrum and diving over in the corner as south London was turned green with joy.
South Africa: 15. Willie le Roux, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Damian De Allende, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Handré Pollard 9. Fourie du Preez; 1. Tendai Mtawarira, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 3. Frans Malherbe, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Lood de Jager, 6. Francois Louw, 7. Schalk Burger , 8. Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: 16. Adriaan Strauss, 17. Trevor Nyakane, 18. Jannie du Plessis, 19. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20. Willem Alberts, 21. Ruan Pienaar, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Jan Serfontein
Wales: 15. Gareth Anscombe, 14. Alex Cuthbert, 13. Tyler Morgan, 12. Jamie Roberts, 11. George North, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Gareth Davies; 1. Gethin Jenkins, 2. Scott Baldwin, 3. Samson Lee, 4. Luke Charteris, 5. Alun-Wyn Jones, 6. Dan Lydiate, 7. Sam Warburton, 8. Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16. Ken Owens, 17. Paul James, 18. Tom Francis, 19. Bradley Davies, 20. Justin Tipuric, 21. Lloyd Williams, 22. Rhys Priestland, 23. James Hook