South Africa clinched a Test series victory over Ireland in dramatic fashion in Port Elizabeth as they produced a brilliant defensive effort to deny the tourists at the death and hold on for a 19-13 win.
Despite dominating possession and territory, Ireland could not break the Springboks down as a result of some superb tackling and their own inaccuracy in crucial moments.
The result saw South Africa claim a 2-1 triumph in a hard-fought Test series, which saw Ireland edge the opener – their first ever win over the Springboks on home soil – before the hosts battled back.
While Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and his side will return home wondering what might have been after spurning a number of good opportunities, South Africa can now move on under new coach Allister Coetzee with optimism.
They led by three through Elton Jantjies’ penalty when the game encountered its big talking point.
On his first start, Ireland full-back Tiernan O’Halloran rose to claim Faf de Klerk’s box-kick and found himself flying head over heels as his opposite number Willie le Roux crashed into his legs.
The Connacht player came crashing down on his upper body area and referee Glen Jackson went upstairs to consult with Rowan Kitt, who adjudged that O’Halloran had landed on his shoulder rather than his neck and the New Zealand official reached for his yellow card when he might have chosen red.
After Ireland’s CJ Stander was sent off in the first Test, it was a huge call and O’Halloran needed a visit to the dressing room for a Head Injury Assessment as Matt Healy came on for his debut.
When O’Halloran returned after being cleared, Ireland were 7-3 in front through Luke Marshall’s try. The centre made up for some early errors by powering past Jantjies to score after an ambitious phase of attacking play involving Stuart Olding, Jack McGrath and Stander.
Paddy Jackson converted but then missed his first penalty attempt.
He slotted over another, easier opportunity to make it 10-3 but Jantjies pulled a penalty back for the hosts.
Ireland should have gone further in front from a brilliant counter-attack after Iain Henderson dispossessed De Klerk. However, Marshall’s final pass to Keith Earls was forward with the line at Munster winger’s mercy.
And Ireland would rue that glorious missed chance when the Springboks struck for a try of their own on the brink of half-time.
Siya Kolisi won a vital turnover on half-way and Jantjies executed a perfect chip over Andrew Trimble’s head for JP Pietersen to touch down.
Jantjies converted to give his side a 13-10 half-time lead and Ireland suffered a further blow as O’Halloran failed to re-appear after the interval, with Healy taking his place again.
Still, the Irish continued to play with positive intent and were inches away from scoring their second try only for De Klerk to reach up and intercept Jackson’s final pass.
Ireland’s play was good to watch, but their error count was costing them and a Marshall knock-on was punished by the Springbok replacement props Steven Kitshoff and Julian Redelinghuys, who won a penalty in their first scrum which Ruan Combrinck nailed from inside his own half. Jantjies added another penalty to stretch the lead to nine, but Ireland – strengthened by their bench – hit back immediately through Jackson’s penalty and they began to believe they could make history.
Brilliant foot-work from Olding took them close and they battered at the line repeatedly in a dramatic final phase. Finally, the ball reached Earls who had Healy outside him, but De Klerk rushed up and hit him hard. In piled the Springboks and the winger held on.
south africa: Try: Pietersen. Con: Jantjies. Pens: Jantjies 3, Combrinck.
IRELAND: Try: Marshall. Con: Jackson. Pens: Jackson 2.
south africa: Le Roux; Combrinck, Mapoe, de Allende, Pietersen; Jantjies, de Klerk; Mtawarira, Strauss, Malherbe, Etzebeth, du Toit, Louw, Kolisi, Whiteley. Subs: Mbonambi, Kitshoff, Redelinghuys, Mostert, Kriel, Paige, Steyn, Mvovo.
IRELAND: O’Halloran; Trimble, Marshall, Olding, Earls; Jackson, Murray; McGrath, Best, Ross, Henderson, Toner, Stander, Murphy, Heaslip. Subs: Strauss, Bealham, Furlong, Dillane, Ruddock, Reddan, Madigan, Healy.
REFEREE: Glen Jackson (New Zealand).