Australia coach Robbie Deans said his young side ‘came of age’ during their 11-9 quarter final victory over South Africa in Wellington.
Deans was delighted that the Wallabies showed remarkable maturity to overcome the most experienced Springbok team ever, featuring 836 caps.
“What you saw was the most experienced World Cup side ever really turn the screws on the youngest,” he said, referring to a South Africa XV that included eight players who started when the Springboks won the 2007 final.
“The boys came of age in the way they accepted that challenge and stood up to it,” former All Black Deans said.
In a game where South Africa dominated possession and territory, Deans said the Wallabies adapted their traditional running game to produce an outstanding defensive effort, completing 147 tackles to South Africa’s 53.
“You saw an epic World Cup encounter,” he said.
“It was different — they’ll say that South Africa limited our ability to do the things that we wanted to do, particularly after the first 20 minutes.
“(But) that’s part of the contest, it’s not just the perceived beautiful things that you see in the game.
“Our boys always like to play with the ball but you’ve got to adapt, they found a way to get through.”
Wallaby captain James Howill, who scored the only try of the match, hailed a gutsy win against seasoned opponents.
“We don’t think we got out of jail, we feel we got the result on the back of a hell of a lot of effort from the whole group,” he said.
“Not everything went our way tonight and we put ourselves under a lot of pressure. But one thing you can’t teach is effort and commitment — every member of our team showed a hell of a lot of that.
“In games like that, you have to find a way to win and we did that. It took at lot of guts to get that result.”
Deans said Australia openside flanker David Pocock was “immense” in the hotly contested breakdown, agreeing it was probably the most dominant individual performance of the tournament so far.
“David Pocock’s game was remarkable, bigger even than he got credit for,” Deans said, describing him as the world’s best number seven.
He also praised 21-year-old back James O’Connor, who nervelessly potted a penalty eight minutes from time to seal the win and cap a strong all-round performance.
“He showed a lot of courage in his tackling and in the air.
“No doubt South Africa targeted him and he not only stood up to it but also had the last say,” Deans said.
He said star playmaker Quade Cooper would concede he did not have his best game but added: “The good thing is that we got through the game with that.”
Deans, speaking before New Zealand were confirmed as Australia’s semi-final opponents, said his team had proved against South Africa they could cope with pressure on the World Cup stage.
“They’ll obviously be sore, recovery will be important to us but they’ll be very excited,” he said.
“Nothing better, there’ll be a lot of emotion running, don’t worry about that.”