JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa survived a late Ireland onslaught to win the third Test 19-13 in Port Elizabeth Saturday and clinch a 2-1 series success.
The Springboks, who led 13-10 at half-time, had to withstand several late Irish surges to triumph and clinch a series in which only six points separated the sides in each international.
Ireland won the first Test 26-20 in Cape Town and South Africa the second 32-26 in Johannesburg.
The Irish had a 21-phase attack repulsed with four minutes left and another onslaught featuring equally good ball retention ended with the visitors being penalised and the final whistle blowing.
"I'm very happy," said South Africa skipper and hooker Adriaan Strauss. "It was very tough game and a tough series.
"We grinded it out a bit, especially in the last few minutes when we had to defend hard.
"Composure in Test rugby will always be important - building an innings and doing the hard yards.
"The forwards really put in the hard yards tonight." Ireland skipper and hooker Rory Best smiled at the end despite losing a series that could have swung either way.
"It has been a great, really tough series. It was exactly what we thought it would be.
"We knew we had to defend really well.
"Look, we came here to win the series and we fell short.
"We were inches away at the end, but that is Test rugby and our boys fought valiantly and gave everything.
"Unfortunately for us, in the last two Tests the Springboks were just a little more clinical.
"A lot of people wrote us off before we arrived in South Africa, but there is some great young talent coming through.
"The future for Irish rugby is very bright with the talent we have here and the talent we have at home." South Africa fly-half Elton Jantjies, given two penalty opportunities inside the opening 10 minutes, succeeded with the first but fluffed the second.
The home team were reduced to 14 men on 11 minutes when full-backs Willie le Roux and Tiernan O'Halloran collided jumping for the ball and the Springbok was yellow-carded.
Ireland used the numerical advantage to score the first try of the game on 16 minutes as patient, multi-phase pressure ended with centre Luke Marshall scoring his first Test try.
Fly-half Paddy Jackson converted, but missed a close-range penalty soon after to the relief of the under-pressure South Africans.
Given another penalty chance after Le Roux returned from the sin-bin, Jackson made no mistake and Ireland were 10-3 ahead.
A Jantjies penalty trimmed the deficit to four points eight minutes from half-time and a moment of magic from the fly-half nudged his side ahead on the stroke of half-time.
The playmaker lofted a perfectly weighted kick from the centre of the pitch into the corner and left winger JP Pietersen caught the ball and raced over.
Jantjies converted and South Africa were 13-10 up as the teams ran off the field at half-time after an even opening 40 minutes apart from the scrums, where the Irish struggled.
A leap by scrum-half Faf de Klerk, one of the shortest players on the pitch, to make a one-hand intercept prevented a near-certain try as Ireland applied early second-half pressure.
Right winger Ruan Combrinck, making his first start for the Springboks, succeeded with a penalty kick from a few metres inside his half to stretch the lead to 16-10 on the hour mark.
Another successful penalty, this time from much closer to the posts by Jantjies, put nine points between the teams only for Jackson to kick his second penalty almost immediately.