Morne Steyn hit a last-gasp 53m penalty to seal a dramatic 28-25 win for South Africa over the British and Irish Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, sealing the three-match series 2-0.
The Blue Bulls flyhalf calmly slotted the kick after a riveting game that saw the injury-hit Lions run out of steam in the second half after dominating the first 40 minutes.
After losing 26-21 in the first Test in Durban last weekend, the Lions had to win to keep interest alive in the third Test in Johannesburg next weekend.
Stephen Jones was faultless with his boot, contributing 20 points, with outstanding fullback Rob Kearney crossing for the visitors’ sole try.
However, the Springboks responded with three tries through wingers J.P. Pietersen and Bryan Habana, and Jacque Fourie, while Frans Steyn hitting a long-range penalty and Morne Steyn two conversions and two penalties.
“To win this series is a great honor and privilege,” smiling but drained ’Boks coach Peter de Villiers said. “We have waited 12 years for this and I hope that in years to come people will recall the 2009 Springboks with pride. We showed great character to come back from a bad start. Three points, two, one, that is how close Test rugby can be.”
Habana paid tribute to replacement flyhalf Morne Steyn.
“It is great to have that little right foot of his. I think Morne knows every blade of grass at Loftus and can kick goals from anywhere,” Habana said. “But this was a team effort and I believe we can go from strength to strength.”
Lions skipper and lock Paul O’Connell said it was his darkest day on a rugby field.
“Right now it is the most disappointing defeat of my life,” O’Connell said. “It is very disappointing to concede a penalty right at the death. The injuries during the match definitely had an impact. Brian [O’Driscoll] going off was crucial as he is the lynchpin of the side, but, to be honest, we just didn’t play in the second half. Last week, we didn’t play for the first 40 minutes and today it was the other way round.”
Head coach Ian McGeechan was a picture of dejection.
“We let the game slip away. It was one we should have won. Tactically, we played well,” McGeechan said. “Unfortunately, we did not maintain our discipline in the second half. The Springbok front five was very weary, but we did not make the most of it. They were two very close games.”
The match got off to an action-packed start with ’Boks flanker Schalk Burger, winning his 50th cap, rightly sin-binned after 32 seconds for gouging Luke Fitzgerald in the eyes.
The Lions kicked the penalty to touch and from a resulting offside in midfield, Stephen Jones booted an easy penalty.
A brief bout of fisticuffs interrupted a nervy start from both sides, Fourie du Preez missing a kick for touch and being charged down in his own 22.
The Lions seemed intent on spreading the ball wide and the opening try came in the seventh minute when Jones took a flat ball, spotted half a gap and flicked a pass out of the back of his hand to Kearney.
The Leinster fullback, with Tommy Bowe outside him, backed himself for the line and scored a five-pointer Jones converted from wide out.
The ’Boks hit back immediately, Victor Matfield taking a quick line-out ball at the back and Du Preez playing Pietersen between Fitzgerald and David Wallace for a well-worked try. Ruan Pienaar missed the conversion.