Rugby World Cup: Springbok old guard are still diamonds, says South Africa coach Meyer

South African players celebrating after defeating Wales in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final match at Twickenham in London on Oct 17, 2015.
South African players celebrating after defeating Wales in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final match at Twickenham in London on Oct 17, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Ever since they lost to Japan in a shock start to the Rugby World Cup, South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has looked to the "characters" in his team to come through.

The Springboks responded to that defeat by winning their next three games to top their pool and their old guard came up trumps again on Saturday, wearing Wales down to win a tense quarter-final 23-19 at Twickenham.

South Africa got huge performances from two of their 2007 World Cup winners in skipper Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger, who have both come back from career-threatening injuries.

Scrum-half du Preez scored the match-winning try with five minutes left and the Burger, who was relentless with the ball and without, won a deserved man-of-the-match award.

"I have always said you have to back the right guys and they have such immense character. I would go to war with them," said South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer. "Fourie was brilliant. But I thought Schalk also came through and Duane (Vermeulen), all the old players were brilliant."

Number eight Vermeulen, in an energetic performance in which he made the most metres of any player on either side, created the game-winning try with a deft offload round his back but it was Burger's all-action display that stood out.

The back-rower, on a day when he set a South Africa record for Rugby World Cup appearances with his 18th match, one ahead of John Smit, made a game-leading 21 ball carries and also ran an impressive 55 metres as he battered away at the Welsh defence.

"I have always said that coaching is over-rated. You have to pick guys with character. They are like charcoal, when you put them under pressure, you get diamonds," Meyer said of Fourie and Burger, who came close to losing his life to bacterial meningitis in 2013.

"Fourie and Schalk work so well together. Fourie is quiet but very driven, even more than me. He just wants to win.

"Schalk is more relaxed, he tells a few more jokes, and Fourie lets him do a lot of the talking."

The Springboks needed a strong second-half performance to wear down the Welsh and Meyer said his replacements had played their part.

"I think it was the strongest bench I've ever picked. We said at half-time to keep on believing," he said. "Wales had a tough game against Australia and we kept our composure. Our replacements made a big difference. It doesn't matter who we play next. We'll stay humble."