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Tempers flared as a single-minded South African side achieved the win they needed over a determined and physical Samoa team to book a place in the quarter-finals.
The hard-fought 13-5 victory at North Harbour Stadium means the Springboks finish top of Pool D and are on course to meet Australia in the last eight. Samoa look certain to have played their final match at Rugby World Cup 2011.
South Africa coach Peter de Villiers was pleased with his team's performance.
“I think we played complete rugby tonight," he said.
“We attacked with everything that we could and in the second half our defence never let us down.”
In a dramatic final 15 minutes, Samoa full back Paul Williams was red-carded for striking an opponent before Springbok replacement John Smit was sent to the sin bin just minutes after going on to the field.
Kept their heads
“They had nothing to lose,” Springboks captain Victor Matfield said. “We knew we wanted to go on so I’m very happy with our discipline. That’s a big positive that we can take out of it. We are very hard on our discipline and I am proud of the boys that they kept their heads and stayed out of all that crap.”
South Africa were quick to make their intentions clear. Morné Steyn attempted a drop goal just two minutes into the match and Frans Steyn had a penalty goal attempt from his own half soon afterward.
Samoa's defence managed to hold firm as South Africa built pressure but only until fleet-footed wing Bryan Habana caught an offload to tear down the left and put down in the corner for the first try.
Samoa fought back but every time they managed to break into South Africa’s 22 they seemed to fall foul of the referee.
They returned after half-time to test the Springboks defence with renewed focus, finding some of the flair that had been lacking in the opening half.
The hard work paid off in the 50th minute as a Paul Williams pass sent number 8 George Stowers over the line and a sea of red and blue flags around the stadium into the air.
It was only the second try South Africa have conceded at Rugby World Cup 2011.
Matfield was particularly pleased with the team's defensive display.
“We’re very happy with our defence against the way they played," he said. "We kept them out. They scored one try but we kept them out for most of the time.
"Our defence is our strong point at the moment and that's how you win tournaments, with great defence."
Springboks coach Peter de Villiers commended Samoa on their game and praised his team for standing strong.
“People call them minnows, but they come at you,” he said. “They’re sharpshooters, they have nothing to lose. They play so hard you lose key players in games like that.
On the line
“The guys knew they had to put their bodies on the line for our country and they did it.”
While Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger was sombre about the outcome of the match, he said the way his team had performed at RWC 2011 bodes well for the Pacific Island nation’s future.
"The boys are pretty disappointed,” he said. “I think this is the end of the road for us but this team is going to do well in the next couple of years. If we get the chance to play these big teams we’ll give them a good go.”
Assistant coach Brian McLean said: “We might be a small country but we play like a big team. We’re pretty happy with our performance in the tournament.
"We didn’t beat them but we probably did enough to give them some hurry-up anyway.”