THE Warren Gatland era will end on Friday rather than at Saturday’s World Cup final after Wales suffered an agonising defeat to South Africa in Yokohama.

The Six Nations champions gave it everything in a bruising encounter but were edged out by Handre Pollard’s late penalty with four minutes left that earns the Springboks a showdown with England.

Wales have one more game of the Gatland era but a chance to end their hoodoo against New Zealand is not what anybody wanted.

They fought and fought against the Boks in a clash dominated by kicking and had a chance to get their noses in front at the death.

A brave call to go for a try had paid off when wing Josh Adams levelled the scores at 16-16 and then Wales hammered away in South Africa territory with the clock in the 70s.

However, a crucial breakdown penalty by supreme scavenger Francois Louw earned the Boks an escape route from their half and the resulting lineout was stopped illegally, giving Pollard the chance to be the hero, one that he expertly took.

South Wales Argus:

South Africa probably deserved it and Wales, who started the game hindered by injuries only to suffer two more to prop Tomas Francis and wing George North in the first half, will have regrets.

The way that they stayed in the arm wrestle was admirable against a Boks side that wanted to steamroller them but they just didn’t pose enough questions with ball in hand, failing to get into the wide channels where they had some joy.

Now they have to somehow rally themselves for the All Blacks, who will be stung by being dismantled by England.

Wales will not want the trophy-laden Gatland era to end with a hammering. Perhaps they can end it with one more magical moment.

Yet it will still sting to watch on when the English and South Africans slug it out on Saturday morning, as this was a golden chance to go one better than 1987 and 2011.

South Wales Argus:

Wales, with Jonathan Davies’ left knee strapped heavily and midfield partner Hadleigh Parkes’ right hand in a huge bandage, needed to start faster than they did against France.

They did, but it was a cagey affair with plenty of kicking, just as Gatland had predicted in his pre-match press conference.

The Boks nudged in front in the 15th minute through the boot of fly-half Pollard when flanker Justin Tipuric was pinged for not rolling away after a strong carry by S'Busiso Nkosi.

However, Wales responded well and an attack down the left flank earned a penalty in the 22 that Dan Biggar slotted.

Back came the South Africans and they punished Dragons number eight Ross Moriarty’s knock-on from the restart with a strong scrum to earn another three points for Pollard.

There had been precious little ball-in-hand rugby but Wales were hanging on in there with Biggar responding to a third Pollard penalty.

At 9-6 Gatland’s men were right in it at half-time but their task had been made harder by the loss of tighthead Francis, after a crushing blow to his shoulder when tackling beefy number eight Duane Vermuelen, and wing North, who suffered a hamstring injury when chasing an aerial bomb.

It was level-pegging after 46 minutes after Biggar punished the Boks for stopping a lineout by going in at the side.

The benches were used but it was the Boks that took command approaching the hour thanks to a combination of their power game and penalty advantage.

They hammered away in the 22 and then struck through powerful centre Damian De Allende, who crashed over from a free shot.

South Wales Argus:

Pollard converted but Wales didn’t let heads dropped and responded with bravery.

They earned a penalty that was kicked to the corner and the pack carried hard through the phases to earn another penalty.

Rather than settling for three points Alun Wyn Jones opted for the scrum and the ball was worked wide by Tomos Williams and Jonathan Davies to put wing Adams over for yet another try.

Halfpenny superbly converted and Wales dared to dream again… only to instead suffer late agony.

Wales: L Halfpenny; G North (H Parkes 39), J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; D Biggar (R Patchell 57), G Davies (T Williams 47); W Jones (R Carre 54), K Owens (E Dee 72), T Francis (D Lewis 35), J Ball (A Beard 59), AW Jones (captain), A Wainwright (A Shinglery 68), J Tipuric, R Moriarty.

Scorers: try – J Adams; conversion – L Halfpenny; penalties – D Biggar (3)

South Africa: W Le Roux; S Nkosi, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk; T Mtawarira, M Mbonambi, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, L de Jager, S Kolisi (captain), P S du-Toit, D Vermeulen. Replacements: M Marx, S Kitshoff, V Koch, RG Snyman, F Mostert, F Louw, H Jantjies, F Steyn.

Scorers: try – D de Allende; conversion – H Pollard; penalties – H Pollard (4)

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)