South Africa launched a ferocious late comeback to beat Ireland 32-26 in the second test on Saturday, scoring 22 points in the last 20 minutes to send the three-match series to a deciding game.
Trailing 19-3 at halftime, and then 26-10 after 60 minutes, South Africa responded with a desperate assault at Ellis Park to turn it around.
Replacement wing Ruan Combrinck scored early in the second half after coming on at halftime for his test debut. But South Africa, attacking relentlessly but often inaccurately for most of the game, finally overcame Ireland's resistance with three tries in the last 20 minutes.
With the win, the Springboks avoided, for now at least, losing a series at home to Ireland for the first time ever.
"That's the thing about the Springbok badge, you never stop fighting," Combrinck said.
Center Damian De Allende forced his way through Ireland's tiring defense for the Springboks' go-ahead try, and their fourth of the second half, with just four minutes to go. Elton Jantjies kicked a penalty on the final hooter to cap the win, as South Africa bounced back with 29 points to Ireland's seven in the second 40 minutes.
Ireland, after winning a test in South Africa for the first time last weekend in Cape Town, appeared set for a larger slice of history in Johannesburg. Lock Devin Toner's first-half try and the boot of flyhalf Paddy Jackson put the visitors in complete control by halftime.
Ireland was under territorial pressure for much of the game but it didn't seem to matter for the first hour as they defended cleverly and were clinical with the few opportunities that came their way. Jackson was on target with four first-half penalties and Toner's try came as the Irish pounced on a South African error and recycled quickly for the second-rower to barge over from close range.
Trailing by 16 points at halftime at one of their favorite grounds, and facing a 2-0 series deficit, the Springboks ran down the tunnel at halftime to a booing home crowd.
Ireland No. 8 Jamie Heaslip went over from a rolling maul in the 60th minute, straight after South Africa's first try from Combrinck, and appeared to have taken the wind out of the Springboks' comeback.
Ireland had a 16-point advantage going into the last 20 minutes.
"We put ourselves in a great position to win the game and win the series," Ireland captain Rory Best said. "But when you give a team like this momentum, they showed what a quality side they are."
The player changes off the bench ultimately came to the rescue for under-pressure new South Africa coach Allister Coetzee.
No. 8 Warren Whiteley, a halftime replacement alongside Combrinck, scored the Boks' second try four minutes after Heaslip had gone over for Ireland. Lock Pieter-Steph du Toit crashed over between the posts for the third with 10 minutes to go. De Allende put the Boks ahead for the first time in more than 70 minutes when he burst through Ireland's backline right at the end.
"I'm really happy that we're halfway there, but there's a series to be won," South Africa coach Coetzee said.