This was a finish that few could have envisaged as the game unfolded in the opening half. After a good start which yielded a welll taken try from Tyrone Howe - after a lovely long cut-out pass from Brian O'Driscoll - Ireland were put under the cosh in no uncertain fashion by a rampant home side. The wonder was that the touring side were only ten points off the pace at the interval. In truth, the game should relly have been over by then. However, even though the Springboks had squandered chances, they looked more than comfortable going into the break and the Irish looked to be facing a very long second half.
And it might have turned out that way because in the opening minutes, Peter Stringer put his captain under awful pressure and O'Driscoll's attempted clearance went into Springboks' hands just metres from the Irish line. It was O'Driscoll who retrieved the situation with the saving tackle.
Shortly after that Reggie Corrigan returned to the fray having been binned at the close of the opening half, Percy Montgomery kicked a 51th minute penalty for a 23-10 lead, and Ireland suddenly came to life.
The resurgence co-incided with the appearance of David Humphreys and Guy Easterby and the sin-bvinning of Wayne Julies. Minutes after he came on for Ronan O'Gara, Humphreys cleverly threaded through a ball whose bounce wrong-footed Montgomery for the ever alert O'Driscoll to gather and score. Humphreys added the conversion and it was definitely a case of game on.
The Spriingboks who up to this had looked imperious in cruise mode, now looked nervy and vulnerable as they were forced onto the back foot.
Irish pressure down the right looked to have paid dividends as Paul O'Connell dived for the line only for a foot in touch to deny the score. They kept up that pressure forcing the Boks to put bodies on the line and when Marcus Horan took a quick tap penalty, Humphreys and O'Driscoll were on hand to put Howe in with a chance only for the wing to be snaffled by the desperate Boks cover. When Montgomery booted a long clearance with just minutes to go, the game was up as far as Ireland were concerned.
That Montgomery clearance was identified by Eddie O'Sullivan as one of two decisions that went against his side as they chased a win that looked on in the closing quarter. "I think there were two big calls. One was for a quick line-out. They kicked it seventy metres. Last week that quick line-out was illegal and we got called back for the same thing.
"The final one was a long kick that I believed went out on the full and they got the benefit of fifty metres with three minutes on the clock and we never got out of our 22 after.
" So we needed those things to maybe go our way. They didn't. But I have to give credit to the boys in the second half. They really came out and gave it everything. Very unfortunate maybe not to win the game.
"As I said we needed a rub of the green but that never really happened for us. But it's hats off to the lads. They're exhausted. It's been a long season. They're absolutely out on their feet. But they gave everything they had and I can't ask for anything more as a coach."
O'Sullivan pointed to the first half-performance as the place where his side set themselves a mountain to climb. "Our first half wasn't great because they pinned us back in our own half and we wouldn't get out. We spent almost the whole of the first half defending.
"After a bright start and a very good try we spent the remainder of the half trying to hold our line. We were pretty punch-drunk at half-time but we did manage to get a drop-goal at the very end of the half having given up a try with Reggie (Corrigan) in the sin-bin.
"The second half was a different story. We really upped our game. We upped it as much as we could. I think we upped it to the point where we ran out of gas.
" With ten/fifteen on the clocks guys were out on their feet.
"Getting the first score in the second half was the plan. We knew that would be important but with 14 men that was always going to be very difficult. It's one thing to hold your line with 14 men, it's even harder to score.
"I thought once we got Reggie back on the field we upped our game considerably. So I can't really complain about the second half performance, it was an excellent effort by the lads and you have to give credit where credit is due."