Morne Steyn has broken the British and Irish Lions hearts once again with a last-gasp penalty that secured a 19-16 victory for South Africa. Just as he did in the 2009 series in Pretoria, it took nerves of steel from the 37-year-old to convert a crucial penalty after yet another brutal encounter which was only decided by a paper-thin margin.
It is such a brutal way for this series to end as Alun Wyn Jones’ side just came up short after another impressive display. The captain on his last tour, was left bloodied and bruised, as were many others on both sides as the two sides went to battle in the most nervy of circumstances, but ultimately it was the world champions who came out on top to mark a remarkable two years.
It is a two years in which the South Africans haven’t played much rugby at all, with only one warm-up game to prepare for this series, yet Warren Gatland could not find a way to get past them. There was frustration and it was a gritty series, but this is how South Africa have enjoyed such success.
There’s not much doubt that in the final Test the British and Irish lions were the better side, but key decisions at key times went against them. The attritional first half was one of little quality, but the Lions bagged the only try of the game through Ken Owens, who joined the back of a driving maul to cross on his first lions Test start. The Welsh hooker won’t forget that one in a hurry.
With the Lions leading 10-6 at half-time, two missed penalties by the Springboks meant it looked as if luck may be on the visitors side but all that changed with a moment of magic from Cheslin Kolbe. The hosts claimed a loose ball off Jasper Wiese’s shoulder before getting the ball out to their danger man who shuffled past one defender and palmed off another to cross and put South Africa ahead.
Handre Pollard added the extras but the Lions would come back into things with a penalty of their own, from the boot of Finn Russell who made it three from three. Another penalty inched the South Africans 16-13 ahead and as the Lions pressed for a score of their own, they went for the win.
They turned down a chance to kick at goal to go for a try which would win the series but the world champions defended resolutely to force a mistake at the scrum. However, Russell came through again with a kick as the scores were levelled heading into the final five minutes, just as they were twelve years ago.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the outcome was exactly the same. Steyn stepped up to convert a late penalty and Alun Wyn Jones’ tears at full-time summed up the painful heartbreak.
"We are hugely disappointed,” he said in his post-match interview. “We were in it until the death. We had an opportunity at the end. I am vey proud of the boys and very conscience of who we represent but as I said, hugely disappointed at the same time."