LONDON • South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer was proud of the way his players picked themselves up from the depths of despair after their semi-final defeat to overwhelm Argentina 24-13 in the Rugby World Cup's third-place play-off on Friday.
Moments after losing to New Zealand last weekend, he said the prospect of playing in the bronze final was like "kissing your sister". But the Springboks changed their tune during the week and gave their all at a sold-out Olympic Stadium.
"What I meant was that if you drop your standards as a coach and you're happy with third, then you shouldn't be a coach of South Africa," he said.
"We could have gone one of two ways - pear-shaped or stick together. We chose to stick together and I'm so proud of what I still think is the best team in the world."
It was an emotional night too for Victor Matfield, the lock captaining the side in his 127th and last appearance having been tempted out of retirement by Meyer.
"When he asked me to come back, it was a difficult decision," said the 38-year-old. "But after tonight and the last seven weeks, it was the right thing."
Matfield is part of a core group of Springboks likely to be retiring.
South African winger Bryan Habana, who needed one touchdown to set a new outright record for the most tries by a player in World Cups, failed to get over the line in what was almost certainly his last tournament appearance.
His fellow wing J.P. Pietersen and lock Eben Etzebeth did score tries while fly-half Handre Pollard kicked 14 points.
A Nicolas Sanchez drop-goal and penalty seemed to be Argentina's only scores but replacement front row Juan Pablo Orlandi scored a converted try in stoppage time.
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade was also pleased with his side even though they fell just short of equalling their best World Cup placing of third in 2007.
"We're a little bit sad because we wanted everything. But we've done very well along the whole of the World Cup," he said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE