Wellington - Their World Cup exit was even harder to stomach in the knowledge that an era had ended, Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez said on Sunday.
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The South Africans were eliminated from the tournament after an 11-9 defeat against Australia in their quarter-final in Wellington.
"We did all the hard work tonight, and during the World Cup, to win this game, and to come up short at the end of the day is hugely disappointing," Du Preez said.
The No 9, considered one of the best scrumhalves in the world, will join Japanese club Suntory, along with Danie Rossouw who has been at his side with both the Springboks and the Blue Bulls.
"It has been a long road for us and this is a very sad exit," Du Preez said.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers said after the match he would call it quits, skipper John Smit was set for a move to English side Saracens, while fellow stalwarts Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha were also likely to make way for young blood as the Boks prepared to herald a new era.
Du Preez admitted the defeat to the Wallabies was one was one of the most frustrating matches he had played.
"Any game you lose in a Springbok jersey is hugely disappointing and you don't want to lose badly either," he said.
"If you look at the way we played, we are proud of our performance tonight and that makes it so much harder to take."
Late in the second half, Du Preez had a chance to score a try, but lost the ball just metres before the try line.
The only area in which the Wallabies were superior to the Boks, according to the match statistics, was in the number of handling errors made by the respective sides.
Australia, who had the ball for 44 percent of the match, knocked it on nine times while the Springboks made 11 handling errors.
"I think that just shows that stats don't mean anything," Du Preez said.
"We felt that we were in control the whole game, even after the first half when we went to the change room at 8-3.
"We felt that we were totally in control and that's just the way rugby goes.
"We did enough to win the game, it just didn’t show on the scoreboard."
Du Preez lauded Wallaby flanker David Pocock, the Man-of-the-Match, for his performance on the night.
"When you play against one of the best openside flanks in the world, and the ref allows him to slow the ball down, he will always be very effective," Du Preez said.
"It was very tough for us, but we didn't do enough to sort him out, so credit to him, he really played well."