This was a step too far for Wales, as Wayne Pivac admitted.
South Africa struck a blow back for the southern hemisphere on a day the north had their fair share of joy.
After brilliant Ireland and dogged England sealed series victories in New Zealand and Australia respectively, there was to be no home nations hat-trick in Cape Town.
Pivac’s Wales made history on Springbok soil this summer by claiming second Test glory after losing the first. The Bloemfontein win was their first in South Africa.
It meant Wales went into a decider at DHL Stadium with a series win possible. That they were even in such a position was remarkable given the paucity of their Six Nations campaign.
South Africa proved to be too strong for Wales in the end and took the series 2-1 in Cape Town
Handre Pollard scored a try, three conversions and three penalties for his side in the match
Ultimately, their aspirations were snuffed out by trademark Springbok power. Wales, in bits by the end after the longest of seasons, could not withstand the home assault.
It meant South Africa took the series 2-1. For Wales, it was defeat, although they will take several positives from this tour.
‘It was a bridge too far in the end,’ said Wales head coach Pivac.
‘But I can’t fault the effort that went in. We were pretty banged up throughout the week which took its toll.
‘We are a little bit frustrated with the score at the end. Coming here the goal was to win the series and we were serious about that.
‘We can still take a lot of positives from this.
‘We are pleased to get the history of a win. When we get together in the autumn, we will be a year out from the World Cup and we need to build on this.
‘The positives outweigh the negatives.’
Damian Willemse was in fine form during the match and one of South Africa’s better players
Wales struggled to break down South Africa as the hosts managed the game well throughout
Wales were dealt two big eve-of-match blows. No 8 Taulupe Faletau was the latest of withdrawals from the decider with a side injury suffered in the warm-up. Josh Navidi was the man to step in and Taine Basham was promoted to the bench where Rhys Patchell replaced Gareth Anscombe.
Liam Williams was unable to claim an early high ball and South Africa were straight on the attack.
Lukhanyo Am kicked to Makazole Mapimpi who crossed with ease, but referee Matthew Carley checked the score with TMO Brett Cronan who ruled it out for the Springbok wing having a foot in touch. Handre Pollard provided some home consolation with the opening points.
Cheslin Kolbe beat Dan Biggar to another high ball and the Wales captain was then second best again to an onrushing Damian Willemse.
South Africa were dominant both in the air and on the ground.
Damian de Allende was held up just short. A fearsome home scrum sent the red pack retreating.
It was no surprise when all the pressure paid off with Pollard diving over. Wales forwards Ryan Elias and Dan Lydiate clashed heads trying to stop the try and Pollard converted.
Lydiate was forced off with a nasty head cut. Lock Alun Wyn Jones and not back-row Basham was the man who surprisingly came on. Wales looked in big, big trouble.
But they had already defied expectations on this tour and did so again to hit back.
Bongi Mbonambi (left) was making his 50th appearance for South Africa on Saturday
George North and Nick Tompkins, who both had fine games, danced forward. Josh Adams then went close, but Tommy Reffell was in support to score. Biggar couldn’t convert.
The Cape Town pitch was, frankly, a disgrace and totally unfit for Test rugby. Players on both teams slipped left, right and centre as the surface cut up.
At the first scrum since Lydiate’s departure, Jones joined Adam Beard in the Welsh second row with Will Rowlands on the blindside flank.
Wales conceded eight penalties in the first 25 minutes.
So, it was remarkable they remained in the contest. South Africa also lost a man in Kolbe, Willie le Roux coming on. Wales were given three more cheap points.
Mapimpi’s head then collided with that of Tompkins as the Welshman was falling to ground. Carley awarded a penalty only and showed no card.
With 15 on the field, South Africa kicked to the corner and their driving maul went over the line.
Bongi Mbonambi was the scorer on his 50th cap and Pollard converted.
Dan Biggar had backed Wales to achieve the impossible in the final Test before the game
Wales had to replace two more forwards at the break, Dewi Lake and Sam Wainwright coming on for Elias and Dillon Lewis. Biggar immediately kicked three more points.
Am waltzed over for what he thought was South Africa’s third, but Carley and Cronan rightly chalked it off for Jaden Hendrikse’s forward pass.
For all their dominance, South Africa were shooting themselves in the foot. It allowed Biggar to narrow the gap. The game was on a knife-edge.
On came South Africa’s ‘bomb squad’ and the explosion they created was heard throughout Cape Town. Wales scrum-half Kieran Hardy was charged down and although Wales escaped, they then decided to run the ball clear and conceded a penalty. Wales’ decision to play out was costly.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi crashed over between Tompkins and Rowlands for the game’s crucial try. Pollard pushed his team 10 points clear. Wales, unsurprisingly, were out on their feet. Their bottle cannot be questioned and their defence has impressed across the three matches.
But their line-out, led by replacement hooker Lake, went to pot late on and ultimately, they conceded too many penalties over the course of the series to come out on top. Pollard made the game safe with two final kicks.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi was on the scoresheet late on for the hosts in Cape Town
Kolisi celebrated after leading his team to the series victory over Wayne Pivac’s Wales
‘Every single game has been hard but I think we were able to take opportunities a little bit more than we did in the past two games,’ said South Africa captain Kolisi.
‘People love the Springboks and obviously they want to see us win all the time.
‘But the coaches had a plan over the first two games and every single person in the squad got an opportunity.
‘We are so grateful we are learning about our squad depth while winning at the same time.’
Scorers: South Africa Tries: Pollard 14, Mbonambi 38, Kolisi 53 Cons: Pollard 16, 39, 54 Pens: Pollard 5, 78, 80
Wales Try: Reffell 19 Pens: Biggar 33,42,48
South Africa: Willemse; Kolbe (Le Roux 21), Am, De Allende, Mapimpi; Pollard, Hendrikse (De Klerk 65); Nyakane (Kitshoff 45), Mbonambi (Marx 45), Malherbe (Koch 45), Etzebeth (Mostert 61), De Jager, Kolisi (capt), Du Toit (Louw 78), Wiese (Smith 39)
Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins (Watkin 60), Adams; Biggar (capt), Hardy (T Williams 51); Thomas (W Jones 56), Elias (Lake 40), Lewis (Wainwright 40), Rowlands, Beard, Lydiate (AW Jones 16) Reffell (Basham 55), Navidi
Replacement not used: Patchell
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Star man: Siya Kolisi (South Africa)