Robbie Henshaw stressed that the 2021 series is still all to play for after The British & Irish Lions succumbed to the Springboks in the second Test.
The tourists went into the rematch at Cape Town Stadium with a 1-0 series lead after winning the opening bout 22-17 as they looked to seal a first series win in South Africa since 1997.
Springboks overcome Lions to set up decider
Warren Gatland’s men looked in good shape at the half-time interval after Dan Biggar’s boot put the men in red 9-6 up and within 40 minutes of taking an unassailable 2-0 lead.
But the world champions fought back after the restart and tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am, plus three Handre Pollard penalties, secured a 27-9 triumph.
And while Henshaw admitted that South Africa were the better side after the break, he is confident the Lions can bounce back in the winner-takes-all third Test.
“It was tough but that’s Test match rugby, momentum swings both ways,” he said.
“Fair play to South Africa, they came out in the second half and they got a bit of an edge on us in an arm wrestle game. It was a bit unlucky in a few parts for us.
“I think the positive is that it’s now a final next week, it’s all to play for and that makes it more exciting. It was just those small things that didn’t fall our way.
“Those 50/50s, the aerial battle in particular. I think that favoured South Africa and they got a bit of momentum off it, they got their first try in the second half off a 50/50.
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“They took their try well and just those small swings in momentum made a difference and they managed to get their back up but credit to our lads for staying in it.”
Just as they had done a week earlier, South Africa took an early lead thanks to a Pollard penalty but the Lions responded with two of their own from Biggar to edge ahead.
A stop-start first half saw both Duhan van der Merwe and Cheslin Kolbe shown yellow cards while a further Biggar penalty gave the tourists a narrow advantage at the break.
But Mapimpi’s try soon after the restart swung the momentum in the Springboks’ favour and when Am also dotted down, Pollard converted to put the hosts 18-9 in front.
The Lions searched for a way back into the contest but three more Pollard penalties put South Africa out of sight and ensured that the series will be decided in the final Test.
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And Henshaw added that the stage is now set for an epic conclusion to the 2021 Tour as the Lions attempt to win only a third series on South African soil in the 20th century.
“We have a lot of work to do, we’ll look each other in the eye this week and make sure we come back stronger from it. It’s 1-1 now and it’s all to play for next week,” he said.
“It’s finals rugby and it’s at the top level so everyone is going to be up for it.”