AUCKLAND, New Zealand - South Africa endured the bone-jarring and bruising clash they expected from Samoa to win 13-5 on Friday and advance their World Cup defence into the quarterfinals.
The Springboks' fourth win from four matches ensured they won Pool D, the toughest in the tournament, and primed them for a run at an unprecedented third Cup triumph.
The Samoans were virtually knocked out of quarterfinals contention, as they needed at least a point from the match in front of a crowd of 29,734, the biggest ever at North Harbour Stadium. That left Wales almost guaranteed of a berth in the last eight if it can take at least a point out of its match with Fiji on Sunday in Hamilton.
In a niggly match that became a thriller as Samoa rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit, both teams finished a man short.
Samoa fullback Paul Williams was sent off in the 70th minute for slapping Heinrich Brussow in the face. Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger called it a harsh decision, but was critical of the overall performance of Welsh referee Nigel Owens.
"The ref has got to be fair for us as well for us to compete in a game like that. I felt like it was one way," Schwalger said.
But a minute after the red card, Owens sinbinned Springboks substitute hooker John Smit for a deliberate knock-on. Smit had only two minutes to enjoy equaling Os du Randt's Springboks record of 16 World Cup matches. Coach Peter de Villiers described the yellow card as "a strange decision."
"It was very tough," South Africa captain Victor Matfield said. "First half we played alright. Second half we went to sleep and the Samoans came out with a lot of heart. They kept the ball, they ran hard. Lucky our defence held them out."
While Manu Samoa are almost certain to depart the World Cup, they left behind a reminder of their valiant run all over the bodies of the South Africans, who were battered in having to make 152 tackles, almost twice as many as the hard-charging Samoans.
The Springboks missed 27 tackles to the Samoans' 11, but their cover defence scrambled well to concede just the one try, to George Stowers. The South Africans also did well in that conceding 10 penalties, none were within range of the posts.
"Guys knew they had to put their bodies on the line for their country," de Villiers said. "We know the medical staff will be working around the clock again."
Bryan Habana, Danie Rossouw and Francois Hougaard all needed repairs but South Africa declined to describe their injuries.
South Africa scored all of its points in the first 27 minutes, with a converted try to Habana and penalties from Morne Steyn and Frans Steyn.
Frans Steyn gave Samoa notice early that they couldn't give away penalties within 60 metres of the posts by lining up one from 58 metres. It smashed into the posts and back into the field of play.
South Africa's ability to recycle ball quickly and spread the attack left and right was finally rewarded in the ninth minute when Bismarck du Plessis was in the backline to give Habana a small overlap on the left wing. Habana just had enough space from 20 metres out to beat opposite David Lemi into the corner. His 10th World Cup try levelled David Campese and Brian Lima for sixth in tournament history.
Morne Steyn converted from the left touchline for 7-0.
Making up for struggling to win its own lineout throw-ins with a solid defence, Samoa would have thought conceding a penalty in the attacking half wasn't threatening until Frans Steyn stepped up and just managed to hit it over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Morne Steyn hit an easier penalty over from 38 metres for 13-0, and Frans Steyn had another shot from a mighty 62 metres, but it didn't quite have the distance.
The Boks continued to drain the tension by containing Samoa to the break. But Samoa brought the match back to life with Stowers' try in the 52nd. From scrum ball, flyhalf Tusi Pisi doubled round and the ball was grounded twice, but Stowers charged onto a pass and dived in under three tacklers.
Pisi missed the easy conversion that would have given Samoa a point for losing within seven of the Boks. The point would have kept their quarterfinal hopes alive into Sunday's Wales-Fiji game.
The Boks came close to scoring from a lineout drive, but the try was unsighted, and Samoa lit up the last quarter with brilliant runs by backs Lemi and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, but always the last defender got a hand on them. In the 67th, Lemi was stopped short and Schwalger dropped the ball on the line, and it was Samoa's last real shot.
"I wasn't disappointed," Schwalger said. "I'm very proud of what my boys did out there tonight. They did it all for our people, for our country. You've got to make sure you take your opportunity when it comes. Obviously we didn't take all of our opportunities and we got punished for it."
South Africa 13 (Bryan Habana try; Morne Steyn conversion, penalty; Frans Steyn penalty), Samoa 5 (George Stowers try) HT: 13-0.