Bryan Habana was denied a World Cup record as South Africa beat Argentina 24-13 in the third place play-off as several of their veteran stars bid 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 wing’s final World Cup match, Habana squandered several chances before being taken off in the 67th minute by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
Fly-half Handre Pollard kicked 14 points as South Africa, who started the tournament with a shock defeat by Japan in the biggest World Cup upset of them all, finished on a high to come 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.
It looked like a Nicolas Sanchez drop-goal and penalty would be all Argentina had to show for their efforts. But a converted try in stoppage time from replacement front-row Juan Pablo Orlandi gave the Pumas the last word.
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 Fourie du Preez, injured in the 20-18 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, wing Juan Imhoff, veteran centre Juan Martin Hernandez and prop Marcos Ayerza all missing.
Sanchez captained the side for the first time in Creevy’s absence.
Argentina were a man down as early as the fifth minute when Irish referee John Lacey sent scrum-half Tomas Cubelli to the sin-bin for obstruction.
South Africa kicked the ensuing penalty for a line-out, which they duly won. The ball was worked right, with Pietersen going over for a try after good hands from Ruan Pienaar and full-back Willie Le Roux.
Pollard landed the difficult conversion and South Africa led 7-0.
Minutes later Habana almost had his record-breaking try but he was beaten to the touchdown by Pumas’ fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Argentina, who in August achieved their first win over South Africa with a 37-25 success in Durban, fell further behind when Pollard’s penalty made it 10-0.
Habana’s pass to Etzebeth -- who also made an impressive 20 tackles -- gave the lock, sliding in on his knees, just enough space out on the left to score a try. Pollard missed the conversion, but another penalty stretched the Springboks’ lead to 24-3 before Sanchez, surprisingly given the deficit, kicked a penalty.