- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

LONDON (AP) - South Africa finished third in the Rugby World Cup after subduing Argentina 24-13 on Friday in a consolation playoff that only the players will remember.

Both sides were earnest and willing at Olympic Stadium in a game that was watchable and livened by a couple of shoving contests that roused the sellout crowd of almost 56,000.

But the Springboks, pragmatic to the end, were hardly changed from their semifinal loss to New Zealand and looked tired. They scored only two tries, none to Bryan Habana, who had some half-chances to claim the World Cup’s all-time tries record to himself and came off with 13 minutes to go because of cramps.

The Pumas were handicapped by wholesale changes and lacked cohesion, just five days after their semifinal defeat to Australia. Marcos Ayerza, arguably the world’s best loosehead prop, strained his hamstring in training and had to withdraw, the 10th change to their starting lineup. It took them until the second minute of injury time to score their only try to replacement prop Juan Pablo Orlandi.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer was proud of his side, and still regretting losing the semifinal by two points.

“If you jump up and down because you’re third, you shouldn’t be coach of South Africa,” Meyer said.

South Africa, up 16-0 at halftime, made victory certain when lock Eben Etzebeth scored their second try on his knees three minutes after the break.

From the restart, Habana - tied with New Zealand great Jonah Lomu on 15 World Cup tries - received a great pass from fullback Willie le Roux, but dropped it; his eyes were on 85 meters of clear grass and not on the ball.

In the first half, Pumas fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino just beat him to a chip into goal, Habana couldn’t grab a head-high pass from Handre Pollard with the line open, and gave away a penalty in a race to the ball when he pulled on Nicolas Sanchez’s shoulder.

“Tonight, he just wanted it too much,” captain Victor Matfield said.

When the chances dried after the dropped pass from le Roux, Habana limped off to the dismay of some South African fans. But by then, Olympic Stadium had become a rugby version of the red carpet, a green carpet to cheer departing stars one last time.

South Africa’s Schalk Burger waved to the crowd, then was rushed back on seven minutes later as a blood-bin replacement, and got to wave to standing fans a second time when he came off for good. Another of the Springboks’ 2007 champions, Matfield, came off 14 years, 122 days after his debut, the longest career of any Bok. Habana followed, second all-time in test tries with 64.

Fourie du Preez, who took over the captaincy after Jean de Villiers retired injured in the pool stage, didn’t play but was acknowledged at the medal ceremony.

The Argentines got to applaud one of their own, too, flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, one of the heroes of their 2007 third-place finishers who started the Pumas’ revolution.

Fernandez Lobbe was not among the 25 in the team who have committed to Argentina’s new Super Rugby side making its debut next year. Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade said he will stay with the national team and won’t be with the Super Rugby side, but he was encouraged by the greater continuity than eight years ago, and positive they’ll be a World Cup contender in 2019.

“In 2007, many players retired and Argentine rugby suffered, but this time we do not have to start from scratch,” he said. “We will carry on going.”

While all the attention was on Habana’s chase, it was his fellow wing, JP Pietersen, who scored the first try after Argentina scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli was yellow-carded for obstructing counterpart Ruan Pienaar.

By the time Cubelli came back in the 16th minute, South Africa was 10-0 up.

The Pumas’ madcap antics cost them in the semifinals, but true to their word, they didn’t change for the third-place playoff. They accepted South Africa’s wasted boxkicks and ran back everything. But the multi-phase moves invariably died by knock-on or a poor pass.

Pollard kicked penalties and 14 points, but opposite Sanchez slotted eight points to remain the tournament’s leading scorer with 97, four more than Pollard.

The teams that beat them last weekend, New Zealand and Australia, meet in the final on Saturday at Twickenham.

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