Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby World Cup: Robbie Deans salutes his troops

The Wallabies celebrate at the final whistle in the third quarter-final against the Springboks. Photo / Paul Estcourt
The Wallabies celebrate at the final whistle in the third quarter-final against the Springboks. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Wallabies' coach Robbie Deans says his side "came of age'' with their gritty 11-9 quarter-final victory over South Africa in Wellington tonight.

His youthful side, spearheaded by openside flanker David Pocock, dug in and found something special to beat a vastly experienced Springbok outfit.

Winger James O'Connor kicked a late penalty to guide Australia to victory after it looked like they would succumb to the boot of Morne Steyn, who provided all of South Africa's points.

"What you saw was the most experienced World Cup side in the world really turn the screws on the youngest side,'' Deans said.

"As James [Horwill] said, the boys came of age in terms of the way they accepted that challenge and stood up to it.''

Captain Horwill was one of Australia's best and made 22 tackles - although his most important contribution was his first-half try, which turned out to be the only five pointer of the game.

"I think not everything went our way tonight,'' Horwill said.

"And we put ourselves under a lot of pressure. But one thing that you can't teach and you can't train is effort and commitment from the group and every member of our team, I think, showed a hell of a lot of both of those. So I'm very proud of the way the guys went about it because in games like that you have to find a way to win and that's what we did and we are very proud of every member of the squad that went out there tonight.''

It wasn't the prettiest game you would see, but it was a struggle of the greatest proportions and the breakdown battle was tough to police for referee Bryce Lawrence.

The loose forward encounter was immense and Rocky Elsom provided able support to Pocock, who was named man of the match for his Herculean effort, which included 26 tackles.

South African coach Peter de Villiers, who confirmed he would step down from his role following the defeat, said his side didn't cash in on the massive 76 per cent territorial advantage they had.

"Quarter-finals, semifinals, finals, you need to take your chances,'' de Villiers said.

"It didn't go our way tonight. We didn't take all our chances. Well done to them. The few [chances] that came their way they took it and they beat us fairly on the scoreboard.''

The match also served as captain John Smit and Victor Matfield's last international appearance and de Villiers said the mood in the dressing room was "three notches lower than a funeral''.

De Villiers summed it up correctly when he mentioned his side didn't take their opportunities.

They had a weight of possession throughout the game, but a dogged Wallabies' defensive line didn't let them through.

South African fullback Patrick Lambie looked to have scored in the second half, but the try was disallowed for an earlier forward pass.

Other than Horwill's early try the Wallabies were forced to live on limited opportunities and barely threatened the line again.

Wallabies' first-five Quade Cooper didn't have a flash game by his high standards and he failed to assert his dominance on the contest, while his defence was awful.

Steyn's second-half drop goal had the Boks ahead 9-8 until O'Connor stepped up in the 72nd minute to drill a penalty that booked his side a spot in the final four.

It was just another great moment in the game for O'Connor who was brave on defence throughout the contest.

- APNZ

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