BRYAN Habana endured a wretched night in missing four fine chances to break Jonah Lomu’s all-time World Cup try-scoring record despite South Africa seeing off Argentina 24-13.
The Springboks secured third place at London’s Olympic Stadium thanks to tries from JP Pietersen and Eben Etzebeth, with Handre Pollard landing 14 points from the tee.
Habana botched a host of chances in what will surely be his last World Cup turn, the 32-year-old ending his glittering World Cup career tied on 15 tries with former New Zealand prodigy Lomu.
Argentina again won the hearts for their endless determination to attack from all quarters, but could not quite puncture the Springboks’ measured defence.
Fly-half and captain on the night Nicolas Sanchez ended the tournament with 97 points, edging ahead of South Africa’s Pollard with 93. The Pumas’ former Toulon playmaker will now most likely seize the golden boot as the top points scorer at this World Cup.
Habana could have had four tries in the first half alone. Instead the 32-year-old became so gripped by white-line fever that he lost his famed finishing edge.
South Africa plundered their only score of the half immediately after Tomas Cubelli was sin-binned for a high tackle. Habana’s fellow wing Pietersen flew home on the right as the Boks exploited their extra man, Pollard posting the conversion.
The Pumas recovered in style, attacking from everywhere, refusing to punt for position in favour of throwing width on the ball.
South Africa would have been out of sight had Habana’s finishing been up to scratch. First Lucas Amorosino beat the Toulon speedster to a loose ball to deny Habana that World Cup record. Then Habana knocked on from Pollard’s floated wide pass with the line at his mercy.
The hat-trick of fluffed chances came with Habana pulled down by Horacio Agulla after a clever infield chip. And the final insult came when Habana read Sanchez’s wide pass, only to miss the intercept by a fraction.
Though South Africa failed to add to their early score in the half, Pollard kept punting the penalties.
Argentina notched a Sanchez drop-goal at the start of the second half but the Springboks hit back immediately, Schalk Burger winning a turnover in Argentina’s 22 and captain Matfield cutting through the line. Heyneke Meyer’s men recycled the ball at speed and Etzebeth stretched for the try in the left corner.
They stretched their lead to 21 points with Pollard’s fourth penalty, before Sanchez responded with one of his own.
When Habana was replaced by Jan Serfontein midway through the final quarter, so the Toulon star’s chance to eclipse Lomu disappeared.
South Africa were then roundly booed for opting to kick at goal, with Pollard inexplicably striking a post.
Argentina battered South Africa’s 22 at the death, their industry and enterprise hugely deserving of a try and the 55,925 Olympic Stadium crowd roaring them to the line. Finally it came, when prop Pablo Orlandi barrelled home. Sanchez slotted the conversion to complete the clash, fittingly handing the Pumas the last word in a tournament all the richer for their verve, incision and sense of fun.
South Africa: Tries: Pietersen, Etzebeth. Cons: Pollard. Pens: Pollard 4.
Argentina: Tries: Orlandi. Cons: Sanchez. Pens: Sanchez. Drop Goals: Sanchez.
South Africa: Le Roux, Pietersen, Kriel, de Allende, Habana, Pollard, Pienaar, Mtawarira, B. du Plessis, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Matfield, Louw, Burger, Vermeulen. Replacements: Lambie for le Roux (64), Serfontein for Habana (67), Paige for Pienaar (77), Nyakane for Mtawarira (40), Strauss for B. du Plessis (48), J. du Plessis for Malherbe (60), de Jager for Matfield (62), Alberts for Burger (53).
Argentina: Gonzalez Amorosino, Cordero, Moroni, de la Fuente, Agulla, Sanchez, Cubelli, Figallo, Montoya, Herrera, Alemanno, Lavanini, Ortega Desio, Fernandez Lobbe, Leguizamon. Replacements: Gonzalez Iglesias for de la Fuente (70), Socino for Agulla (58), Landajo for Cubelli (52), Noguera for Figallo (61), Garcia Botta for Montoya (77), Orlandi for Herrera (55), Petti Pagadizabal for Alemanno (47), Isa for Fernandez Lobbe (52).