South Africa 19-16 British and Irish Lions: Morne Steyn’s late penalty wins series
|South Africa: (6) 19|
|Try: Kolbe; Pens: Pollard 2, Steyn 2; Con: Pollard|
|British and Irish Lions: (10) 16|
|Try: Owens; Pens: Russell 3; Con: Russell|
The British and Irish Lions lost an agonisingly close series decider to South Africa as Morne Steyn’s late penalty sealed a 19-16 victory.
Steyn, 37, landed the kick that decided the 2009 series and proved little had changed as he put the Springboks ahead with two minutes left.
The Lions led at half-time after Ken Owens’ try and composed kicking from replacement fly-half Finn Russell.
Cheslin Kolbe crossed and from there it was all down to the goal-kickers.
Russell – who came on for an injured Dan Biggar in the 11th minute – landed a long-range effort to tie things at 13-13 with 18 minutes remaining.
He and Steyn then traded kicks, before the Springbok 10 dealt the final blow to add a Lions series win to their 2019 World Cup success.
The victory capped off an impressive turnaround after South Africa lost the first Test, but there were no fans to celebrate in Cape Town Stadium because of coronavirus restrictions.
Russell rises to occasion in first half
It felt as if there was much more than a series on the line coming into the decider, with the build-up focused on the unentertaining style of the first two Tests and complaints from both sides about officiating.
The match did at least deliver on late drama, but with just six tries scored across the series questions may remain over the ability of the game to attract new fans in its current form.
The early entrance of Russell after Biggar departed with what looked like an injury to his right leg suggested the Lions might be forced to move to a more exciting gameplan than the reliance on physicality and kicking of the first two Tests.
The Scotland 10 – often labelled a maverick for his canny kicking for both club Racing 92 and country – looked composed as he took to the field with a smile for each of his team-mates.
Russell had not played for five weeks because of an Achilles injury but looked undisturbed as he sent a penalty straight through the middle of the posts.
That would be his last kick on goal of the first half as the Lions showed ambition, sending a kickable penalty to the corner to set up Owens’ try in a driving maul before nailing the conversion.
The Lions looked confident with the ball in hand and Russell sent two more opportunities for three points to the corner – a good idea at the time that was perhaps proved foolish by the final scoreline.
Pollard did no such thing and instead kept his side within four points after a second successful penalty before half-time.
South Africa snatch remarkable win
The momentum had drastically swung at half-time in both the previous Tests, with the Lions bouncing back for victory in the first and South Africa winning the second.
This time, neither side made a move initially as multiple stoppages slowed play and the game began to lose momentum.
The Lions had made it clear during the week that they wanted to play with tempo. They were stripped of that ability, but at least remained ahead on the scoreboard as Pollard missed two penalties.
The match was eventually revived as South Africa won the high ball once again and Willie le Roux drew Jack Conan in, giving Kolbe all the space he needed to run round Liam Williams and score.
A lengthy review proceeded to check whether Springbok eight Jasper Wiese had knocked the ball on in the air, but the try stood.
Russell took another step on the road to Test greatness with a nerveless penalty from just inside South Africa’s half to level things at 13-13.
But the Lions immediately conceded a penalty themselves and Steyn gave the Springboks the lead.
The Lions’ hopes were high as they again kicked to the corner with 10 minutes remaining, but Mako Vunipola was held up over the line.
The tourists gave Steyn another chance to kick with two minutes left and the Springbok 10 once again ended Lions dreams, a defeat made all the more difficult to accept by the sacrifices players had made to complete the tour in a strict coronavirus bubble.
For South Africa, whose Test series almost ended before it began when most of the squad tested positive for coronavirus in the build-up and who had only managed one warm-up Test since the 2019 World Cup, it is a remarkable victory.
British and Irish Lions: Williams; Adams, Henshaw, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Price; Jones, Owens, Furlong, Itoje, A Wyn Jones (capt), Lawes, Curry, Conan.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Vunipola, Sinckler, Beard, Simmonds, Murray, Russell, Daly.
South Africa: Le Roux; Kolbe, Am, De Allende, Mapimpi; Pollard, Reinach; Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, De Jager, Kolisi (capt), Mostert, Wiese.
Replacements: Marx, Nyakane, Koch, Van Staden, Smith, Jantjies, Steyn, Willemse.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)