Joe Schmidt rues second half implosion but series win in Port Elizabeth remains the target
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted he has a big job on his hands to lift his troops for next week's Test series decider against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.
The New Zealander watched his side surrender a 16-point half-time lead to lose 32-26 at Ellis Park as South Africa produced a stunning second-half performance to level the series.
Tries from Ruan Combrinck, Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende saw Ireland crumble in the face of the Springbok onslaught and while CJ Stander will be available for the final Test, Robbie Henshaw is now a major doubt after injuring his knee.
"The players are certainly disappointed," Schmidt said.
"They're fairly tired in that changing room. Whenever you get the win and get the result, it's always a lot easier to bounce back even if it's a physically tiring match.
"It'll take us a couple of days probably mentally to get over the anguish of surrendering the lead we had and, at the same time, trying to work our way back to being fit enough to train fully and build towards next weekend's Test match."
Captain Rory Best is urging his side not to get too carried away with the nature of their defeat as he emphasised that it is still all to play for at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium next Saturday with the series level at 1-1.
"It's incredibly frustrating and disappointing, but we know now that it's one-all. We go to Port Elizabeth with a chance to win a Test series over here," he said.
"I think the important thing over the next 24 hours is that we have to take this loss on the chin, you sometimes have to let these losses dwell in you a little bit and come out the other side stronger.
"We'll look back and I'm sure there's a lot of boys in that changing room who won't be looking forward to the review come Monday morning.
"But it's something that we know as a squad and a team that that's what makes you stronger, it's learning from that and knowing that, if we get ourselves in that position next week, we don't make the same errors we did this week.
"It's going to be a big investment for us, but ultimately we came here to win a Test series and we're in with a shout of doing that.
"We'll hurt for a little bit, then we'll dust ourselves down and we'll take a big stride forward to try and improve the last quarter next week."
South Africa coach Allister Coetzee hailed the impact of his bench after securing the first win of his tenure thanks to the second half comeback.
In particular, local heroes Combrinck and Whiteley had a major influence in turning the game in their side's favour.
"We have been together for 20 days, the comeback showed how much we can achieve and the potential there is," Coetzee said.
"One of our core values is resilience and that showed. We were in a hole and had to get out. We will become a good team, I know that, tonight was a building block. Don't write us off yet.
"The impact from the bench was massive. They turned it around for us. This team is not about 15 players, but rather all 23. Adriaan (Strauss') leadership in that time proved crucial and I am pleased in many ways that we are starting to think on the same wavelength.
"I am pleased that Ruan Combrinck took his opportunities, as did players such as Julian (Redelinghuys) and Franco (Mostert). Those guys are not Lions players, they are Springboks."