Five-eighth Elton Jantjies kicked South Africa to a 19-13 win over Ireland in the third and final test, but it took some desperate defending to clinch the series on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Springboks, who only had 30 per cent of the ball in the game, hung on through an anxious last 10 minutes as the visitors came with metres of a last-gasp try that would have handed them a historic victory.
Both sides scored a try, with Ireland going over first after 16 minutes when Luke Marshall crashed through the Springbok defence after a strong build up.
South Africa conjured up a clever try on the stroke of halftime as Jantjies kicked up into the left-hand corner for winger JP Pietersen to snatch the ball out of the air and cross over.
South Africa were again disjointed as a clever Irish side kept asking questions and the tourists went 10-3 ahead with 20 minutes gone.
Marshall’s first test try came as Ireland showed patience with ball in hand and put together several key phases to allow the centre to force a break in the home defence.
But the Boks went into a 13-10 halftime lead just before the break after a piece of improvisation from Jantjies found Pietersen with uncanny precision.
A long-range penalty from winger Ruan Combrinck extended the lead on the hour and then Jantjies popped over another penalty to make it 19-10.
Paddy Jackson, who kicked eight points for Ireland, brought it back to a six-point game with 10 minutes to go, sparking a last furious burst from the Irish.
But tenacious home defending kept them away from the try line to hand South Africa an unconvincing series win.
“We grinded it out a bit, but it was good to get the win. It was a tough series. The forwards did all the hard work to play the platform today,” South Africa captain Adriaan Strauss said.
Ireland won a Test in South Africa for the first time when they won the opening encounter 26-20 at Newlands, but last weekend went down 32-26 at Ellis Park in the second test.
“We were just inches away, it speaks volumes of our boys. The fact that we were within six points in two Tests is a testimony to our players,” Ireland skipper Rory Best said.