Saturday’s (August 7) final match in Cape Town will be a winner-takes-all series decider after the tourists were defeated 27-9 in the Second Test thanks to a dominant second-half display from the Springboks, who scored tries through Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am and got 17 points in total from the boot of fly-half Handre Pollard.
The Springboks executed a familiar gameplan to perfection after the interval to avoid the ignominy of losing a Lions Test series for the first time since 1997 with one match to spare following a second-half fightback from their opponents last weekend that saw them clinch the First Test 22-17.
The Lions led 9-6 at half-time of an ill-tempered second contest but, in a role reversal from seven days ago, they could not live with the reigning world champions in the second half as Jacques Nienaber’s side dominated the physical battle up front and unleashed an aerial bombardment to great effect.
"The players are very disappointed but next Saturday is a cup final. That's how we've got to look at it and prepare," Lions head coach Gatland said.
"There are a few things we've got to tidy up. It's 1-1 and South Africa put a huge amount of emotion into that game. We've got that chance next week to hopefully take the series.
"We were happy at half-time and in the second half just didn't get into it. We got no momentum, no real opportunity to play. Nothing at all from our kick returns and that was disappointing.
"They scrummaged well in the second half and got some reward from that. We felt going into half-time that we'd carried well, we had some forward momentum and we just didn't achieve that at all in the second half."
There was huge pressure on New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe heading into Saturday’s Second Test after South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus posted an extraordinary hour-long video monologue in the build-up to the game heavily criticising last week’s officiating, when Nic Berry was in charge.
One of O’Keeffe’s key decisions came when he elected to only show Springbok wing Cheslin Kolbe a yellow card for dangerously taking out Lions scrum-half Conor Murray in the air during the first half.
Many felt Kolbe was very fortunate indeed to escape a red.
Quizzed on that decision, Gatland said: “We’ll have our meeting with the referee this week and see what the assessors come back with in terms of their decision.
“It didn’t look great from where I was but he decided it was a yellow card decision.”
Additional reporting by the Press Association.