Boks survive Samoan assault
Auckland - Defending champions South Africa qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals but not after a desperate struggle to fight off Samoa 13-5 and stay unbeaten at North Harbour on Friday.
The Springboks led 13-0 at halftime but failed to score for the last 53 minutes as they withstood a furious comeback from the Samoans, who finished a man down for the last 10 minutes after fullback Paul Williams was sent off.
Samoa needed to beat South Africa for the first time in seven encounters and hope Fiji downed Wales on Sunday and they put the Springboks under enormous pressure in the second half.
South Africa will now face either Ireland, Australia or Italy in next weekend's quarter-finals, while the World Cup is over for the never-say-die Samoans.
"Everybody called this the pool of death, we knew it was going to be tough, and we had a helluva pool to get through, but we're through it now and it's all systems go," Springbok coach Peter De Villiers said.
In a thriller the Springboks' greater composure under pressure proved the difference as the Samoans threw everything at them.
"Our defence is our strong point at the moment and that's how you win tournaments with great defence," match skipper Victor Matfield said.
The Samoans were disappointed to go down after a mighty struggle and felt they had a few calls go against them.
Skipper Mahroni Schwalger said:"We're pretty disappointed, but I'm proud of the boys, they gave all they had and the referee was hard on us, a few calls went against us."
The Springboks dominated the set pieces and were ruthless in counter-rucks, often pilfering the ball off the Samoans in a rip-roaring first half.
Centre Frans Steyn missed the first of his three long-range penalty attempts before the flying Bryan Habana scored his record 40th Test try in the ninth minute.
Frans Steyn set up the movement with a bumping midfield run before Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie and Bismarck du Plessis moved play to the left wing for a diving Habana to score in David Lemi's tackle.
Morne Steyn's conversion had the Boks 7-0 ahead with the advantage of a stiff following wind.
South Africa pulled further ahead when Frans Steyn landed a booming 53m penalty with the wind.
Kane Thompson cost Samoa another three points with ill-discipline in a disintegrating scrum and Morne Steyn added the penalty for 13-0.
Frans Steyn audaciously attempted a massive 63m penalty off another scrum penalty but he was just wide minutes later.
Habana hobbled off seven minutes after the resumption with an injured left knee to be replaced by Francois Hougaard and he was followed by lock Danie Rossouw, who went straight down the players' tunnel to treat a cut.
Samoa hit back with number eight George Stowers storming over in the 51st minute off a Pisi pass, but Pisi missed the conversion to trail 13-5.
The Samoans got a bad call from referee Nigel Owens after Lemi made an electrifying break and was penalised in Patrick Lambie's tackle when replays showed he had not been held in the tackle and the pressure was off the Springboks.
Schwalger lost the ball over the line as Samoa continued to threaten, but the match boiled over in the 70th minute when fullback Paul Williams received a straight red card for striking Heinrich Brussow.
Brussow thrashed out at Williams to get release from a maul and the Samoan fullback got off the ground and retaliated by striking him in the face.
Springbok John Smit came off the bench for his record 110th Test but only lasted two minutes before he was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on as the game threatened to get out of hand.
But South Africa hung on for their tightest win over Samoa and boost their chances of back-to-back Webb Ellis Cups.
Try: Bryan Habana
Conversion: Morne Steyn
Penalties: Frans Steyn, Morne Steyn
Try: George Stowers
LIVE commentary: Springboks v Samoa
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15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 John Smit, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Jean de Villiers
15 Paul Williams, 14 David Lemi, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 George Stowers, 7 Maurie Faasavalu, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger (captain), 1 Sakaria Taulafo
Substitutes: 16 Ole Avei, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Ofisa Treviranus, 20 Filipo Lavea Levi, 21 Junior Poluleuligaga, 22 George Pisi
Springbok wing Bryan Habana scores in their Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Samoa at North Harbour Stadium. (Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)