Captain Rory Best believes momentum prevented Ireland getting the victory that would have secured a historic first series win in South Africa.
The visitors went 19-3 up at the break and were even closer to victory when Jamie Heaslip’s converted try put Ireland 26-15 ahead with 20 minutes remaining in Johannesburg before two tries in the last 15 minutes broke Irish hearts.
Despite the 32-26 defeat, the hooker is remaining upbeat about his team’s chances ahead of the series-decider in Port Elizabeth next week. Best said: “We put ourselves in a great position to win the game and win the series. Looking back on a lot of the mistakes we made in the second half, we gave the Boks the momentum and when you give a team like that momentum, they show what a quality side they are.
“I think that, certainly first half and for the first 50 or 60 minutes we were very physical and we did everything we could – and we kept going at them.
“Even when we conceded the try, to go straight back up and score again showed a lot of mental resolve from our boys but obviously we will be very disappointed with the result.
“I think at the same time we can take a few positives from that. It’s one-all in the series and we’re at Port Elizabeth next week and you know we will back ourselves to go and try and get the win. It will be another really, really tough Test match.”
South Africa captain Adriaan Strauss was relieved his side pulled through to grab the win.
He said: “From every single player in that team, we really put up our hands and showed a lot of character.
“I think there are still a lot of opportunities we didn’t create and just we just couldn’t finish.
“We needed to get that ruthless mindset to get points on the board. We still have a lot to work on – it’s our second game together and we will definitely be better next weekend.”
The early signs were not promising for the tourists who were behind within minutes after Elton Jantjes kicked a penalty from halfway. But that early three-pointer turned out to be the home side’s only points of the half as the Ulster stand-off Paddy Jackson levelled the scores then added three more penalties before Devin Toner scored the first try of the match.
It was a different game in the second half however, as the Springboks made changes, Ruan Combrinck and Warren Whiteley coming on to score.
But Heaslip touched down and Jackson was spot on from the touchline to restore the lead before Pieter Steph du Toit drove over from close in and Jantjes narrowed the gap to four points.
There only looked like being one winner now and so it proved as Damien De Allende swept a tired Murray aside to score. Jantjes converted and added a penalty for good measure.
SOUTH AFRICA:Tries: Combrinck, Whiteley, du Toit, de Allende. Cons: Jantjies 3. Pens: Jantjies 2.
ireland: Tries: Toner, Heaslip. Cons: Jackson 2. Pens: Jackson 4.
SOUTH AFRICA: le Roux, Pietersen, Mapoe, de Allende, Mvovo (Combrinck), Jantjies (Steyn), de Jager, Mtawarira (Nyakane), Strauss, Malherbe (Redelinghuys), Etzebeth, du Toit, Louw, Kolisi (Mostert), Vermeulen (Whiteley).
IRELAND: Payne, Trimble, Henshaw (Madigan), Olding, Gilroy, Jackson, Murray (Marmion), McGrath (Strauss), Best (Kilcoyne), Furlong (Bealham), Roux (Ryan), Toner, Henderson, Ruddock (Reidy), Heaslip.
REFEREE: Angus Gardner (Australia).