Australia's defensive masterclass forces De Villiers to walk away

South Africa 9 Australia 11

Peter de Villiers stood down as South Africa's head coach after this nail-biting quarter-final, bringing to an end one of the most colourful and bizarre reigns in world rugby. The Springboks coach has veered from the sublime to the ridiculous during his four years in charge, which included a Tri-Nations title and series win over the British Lions in 2009.

His appointment as the first non-white coach of the Springboks was initially regarded as ground-breaking, though his ability to put his foot in his mouth with unguarded and ill-judged comments left him open for ridicule and criticism. However, here in Wellington, De Villiers spoke with genuine sincerity when announcing he would stand down after South Africa's reign as champions was ended by James O'Connor's penalty eight minutes from time.

"It has been a brilliant journey, something you guys can never take away from me," he said. "There is a time and a time to go so I think the journey for me is over.

"I have been passionate about my country and we have always tried to give hope to the poor people back home who do not have the same privileges. I wanted to be the best man I could be and the way I am is the way I want to be remembered."

The game was also the last Test appearance for World Cup winners Victor Matfield and captain John Smit, who retire from international rugby, having amassed a combined 221 caps.

Smit, who will join Saracens, hailed Matfield as the "greatest" Springbok of all time. He added: "It's a sad occasion. You never plan for the way it will end because you dream of the fairy-tale finish in a final and it's sad that it has ended like this.

"I am devastated. It is the first time I have lost a game on the scoreboard that we have dominated everywhere else on the field."

Smit criticised Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence for not reining in David Pocock at the breakdown, but the Wallaby flanker was brilliant, Australia making up for a horror show in attack with a remarkable defensive display.

"It was disappointing the breakdown was not refereed fairly. It was pretty much the only talking point really in the game between myself and the referee and the messages I was getting through obviously weren't working," Smit said. "He [Pocock] was brilliant under Bryce Lawrence's interpretations. When we decided to be brave and keep the ball, you'd normally be rewarded as an attacking team."

Australia were forced to make almost three times as many tackles as the Springboks – they also conceded 76 per cent territory and endured a patchy display from Quade Cooper – yet still managed to score the game's only try with their first attack, skipper James Horwill barging over.

Morne Steyn kicked South Africa ahead 9-8 on the hour before Danie Rossouw needlessly up-ended Radike Samo at a lineout and O'Connor held his nerve to fire over the winner, to secure a place in the semi-finals, where Australia will face New Zealand.

"There will be a lot of emotion during the week but our guys are equipped to handle that," Australian coach Robbie Deans. "We saw the most experienced World Cup side [South Africa] really turn the screw on the youngest squad and our boys really came of age in the way they accepted that challenge and stood up to it.

"It was an epic World Cup encounter but over the next two weeks we will see the best World Cup rugby ever played because the bar is constantly being raised."

Scorers: Australia: Try Horwill; Penalties O'Connor 2. South Africa: Penalties Steyn 2; Drop goal Steyn.

Australia K Beale (A Faingaa, 74); J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, P McCabe (B Barnes, 52), D Ioane; Q Cooper, W Genia; S Kepu (J Slipper, 69), S Moore (T Poplota-Nau, 64), B Alexander, D Vickerman (N Sharpe, 54), J Horwill (capt), R Elsom, R Samo, D Pocock.

South Africa P Lambie; JP Pieterson, J Fourie, J De Villiers, B Habana (F Hougaard, 50); M Steyn, F Du Preez; G Steenkamp, J Smit (capt, B Du Plessis, 50), J Du Plessis, D Rossouw, V Matfield, H Brussow (F Louw, 20), P Spies (W Alberts, 63), S Burger (W Alberts, 14-18).

Referee Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand).