Wales run Springboks close
Wales went within touching distance of achieving their greatest World Cup victory before the Springboks denied them 17-16 in a pulsating Pool D tussle.
Substitute Francois Hougaard's try 15 minutes from time, converted by Morne Steyn, got world champions South Africa out of jail and left Wales inconsolable. Wales were left to reflect on a missed James Hook penalty, a failed Rhys Priestland drop-goal attempt from in front of the posts - and a controversial first-half moment.
Hook's 14th-minute penalty looked to have gone over, even though it sailed above the post, but the touch judges did not award it. It was rough justice on a Wales team who had heroes everywhere, from try-scorer Toby Faletau to strong-running centre Jamie Roberts, combative scrum-half Mike Phillips and skipper Sam Warburton.
Hook added three penalties and a conversion, while full-back Frans Steyn also crossed for the Springboks, with fly-half Morne Steyn slotting two conversions and a penalty. Wales made a nightmare start as South Africa scored after just three minutes.
Warburton, who became the youngest captain in Rugby World Cup history, initially missed a tackle on Jaque Fourie before South Africa spun the ball wide and full-back Frans Steyn powered over. Morne Steyn effortlessly added the touchline conversion, but Wales showed signs of a quick recovery when Hook slotted a penalty.
Hook had a second penalty attempt after 15 minutes, awarded when Springboks wing JP Pietersen high-tackled Phillips, but although the kick appeared to go over above a post, the touch judges kept their flags down. Hook was mystified by the decision, but play continued and a long-range Morne Steyn penalty put South Africa 10-3 ahead after 18 minutes.
The game had lost some of its initial sparkle, yet a second successful Hook penalty narrowed Wales' deficit and gently reminded South Africa they were still firmly in the contest. Wales continued to press, and they ended another spell of pressure with Hook completing his penalty hat-trick that narrowed the gap to one point.
And it got better for Wales in the 54th minute when a brilliant Priestland pass sent number eight Faletau over for his first Wales touchdown. Referee Wayne Barnes required confirmation from Australian television match official Matt Goddard before the try was awarded, and then Hook's successful conversion made it 16-10 to leave Wales firmly in the driving seat.
South Africa were at sixes and sevens but their much-vaunted strength in reserve had the desired effect when Hougaard scorched over for a try with his first touch. Morne Steyn added the extras, making it 17-16 to South Africa, yet Wales should have regained the lead when Priestland had a point blank drop-goal attempt that he rifled wide.
It was a bad miss by the Scarlets player, yet Wales then gained a penalty chance when Hougaard infringed. Hook, though, could not find the target and South Africa retained their slim advantage. And South Africa, with their forwards moving up a gear, then closed out the game.