South Africa hit back against Ireland at Ellis Park despite trailing for the majority of the match, ultimately winning 32-26 to tie the series.
Ireland were in complete control for close to 60 minutes in Johannesburg thanks to tries from Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip along with the boot of Paddy Jackson, who scored 16 points.
But as the tourists began to tire in the final quarter South Africa finally came good after an abject first half, finishing with four tries from Ruan Combrinck and Warren Whiteley, both replacements at half-time, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende. From 26-10 down, they scored 22 unanswered points.
Facing an expected backlash from South Africa, Ireland were by far the better side for the majority of the contest, but the Springboks dug deep and eventually came up with the goods to turn the boos from the crowd into cheers.
The result means the series is now tied at 1-1 ahead of the final Test in Port Elizabeth next weekend.
First blood at the scrum went the way of the Springboks, the penalty going against Tadhg Furlong for scrumming on the angle with Elton Jantjies stepping up to knock the ball over from just inside Ireland’s half.
Aspects of South Africa’s game were immediately brighter than the previous week but it wasn’t long until the boos rang out as Willie le Roux lashed another wasteful kick long into Irish hands.
Jackson levelled things up with a penalty after ten minutes and after South Africa strayed offside he doubled his tally, making it 3-6.
Turning down kickable points was a basic mistake from Adriaan Strauss with Ireland’s rip defence continually winning turnovers.
Ireland meanwhile oozed control, their rolling maul resulting in another shot for Jackson which he unsurprisingly converted to stretch the lead to six points.
Just like at Newlands the indiscipline from the home side continued to cost them, Jackson striking again to ominously make it 3-12 for Ireland.
Jantjies had a chance to stem the tide, a soft penalty conceded by Andrew Trimble holding Faf de Klerk in at the ruck, but he could only strike the left upright. Ireland infringed again immediately from the ricochet but this time Jantjies’ effort slid down the left, keeping the gap at nine points.
Now South Africa were panicking. Lwazi Mvovo failed to deal with a high kick forward as Andrew Trimble brilliantly scooped the ball back in-field to Jared Payne. The Ireland full-back was brought down short of the line but after recycling Devin Toner crashed over, converted by Jackson to make it 3-19.
Jackson’s perfect run came to an end with a penalty miss but Ireland had already done some damage, as the Springboks sprinted off at half-time to a cacophony of boos from their own supporters.
Allister Coetzee had to change something and the introduction of Ruan Combrinck and Warren Whiteley was a start, as was some slicker ball and greater intent.
Jackson missed his second penalty narrowly down the right upright but Ireland had ridden out a potentially tricky opening ten minutes at the start of the second half with South Africa looking to find a way back into the contest.
The Springbok scrum though was being decimated, the power of Quinn Roux added to the second row making a difference and allowing Ireland to more or less play the game exactly where they wanted to.
Finally South Africa made a breakthrough, a quick lineout giving Le Roux time to counter-attack before he released Combrinck, who busted through the tackle of Jackson to finish in the corner.
Jantjies, who might have been rocked by those earlier misses, crucially landed the conversion from out wide to make the score 10-19.
Ireland’s response was immediate, charging down Faf de Klerk’s box kick and winning a deep penalty before opting for the corner instead of going for the posts.
South Africa had no answer for Ireland’s maul, Jamie Heaslip touching down for their second try to take the air out of the Ellis Park. Jackson landed a sublime conversion to make it 10-26.
The other half-time replacement for the Springboks was the next to score, Whiteley’s footwork allowing him to score in the corner after Combrinck had thundered through the tackle of Payne on the other side to start off the attack. This time there was no conversion, Ireland taking a 26-15 lead into the final 15 minutes.
Suddenly the altitude looked a factor as South Africa turned on the power, Pieter-Steph du Toit crashing over by the posts to cut the deficit even further after Jantjies’ conversion to make it just 22-26.
A momentous steal from Eben Etzebeth helped the Springboks climb another rung on the comeback ladder and the killer blow came from De Allende, busting through some tired Irish tackles for South Africa’s fourth try, and more importantly the one to put them ahead.
For South Africa:
Tries: Combrinck, Whiteley, Du Toit, De Allende
Cons: Jantjies 3
Tries: Toner, Heaslip
Cons: Jackson 2
Pens: Jackson 4
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Ruan Combrinck
Ireland: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Rhys Ruddock, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Tiernan O’Halloran
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)