South Africa overturned a first half deficit and ill-discipline to open their November tour of the northern hemisphere with a deserved 16-12 victory at Lansdowne Road in Dublin.
After a half blighted by poor play and the concession of 11 penalties, leading to a 12-3 deficit, the visitors turned up the intensity and kept Ireland scoreless in the second half to consign Declan Kidney's understrength side to defeat.
The Springboks had looked vulnerable, and the hosts impressive, but a halftime speech by coach Heyneke Meyer had the desired effect and with skipper Jamie Heaslip sent to the sin bin moments after the restart, the Boks ruthlessly notched up 10 points to steal ahead and grab a lead they refused to relinquish.
Meyer's side came to Dublin hoping to banish the memories of a disappointing third place finish in the Rugby Championship and ease the pressure on the coach, under whose stewardship the Boks have won just four of nine matches.
Meyer had to plan without a host of stars and even worse was to come as Tendai Mtawarira was forced to withdraw hours before kick off, taken to hospital after a recurrence of mild heart palpitations.
CJ Van Der Linde, who spent two years in Dublin with Leinster, stepped in to the breach but Meyer did have some consistency in his selection, with just three other changes from the side that lost to New Zealand in the last game of the Rugby Championship.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney made seven changes in personnel from the team that was humiliated 60-0 by New Zealand in June.
The hosts were hit by an injury crisis and lined up without Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Rory Best, Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris and Rob Kearney, forcing the hosts into some major restructuring.
Ireland raced into a six-point lead by the 10 minute mark thanks to a combination of Jonny Sexton's flawless kicking and South African indiscipline.
South Africa were struggling to get on the front foot, but a good midfield break from JP Pietersen brought the Boks into Irish territory and a Lambie penalty kick put the first points on the board for the visitors.
Discipline continued to hamper their efforts though, and with the Irish growing in confidence Sexton added a third penalty on 21.
South Africa were on the back foot now, and coughed up another penalty which Sexton dispatched with ease to put nine points between the sides.
The crowd were enjoying the spectacle, but the noise level lifted a notch when Pietersen enraged both the home crowd and players by charging dangerously into Chris Henry as the Ulster backrow stood waiting to catch a high ball.
Fists flew as referee Wayne Barnes sent the Boks winger to the bin, with Pietersen perhaps lucky to avoid a red card.
With the clock ticking toward half time, Keith Earls squandered Ireland's best try-scoring opportunity, throwing his pass ahead of Bowe with the winger in space out wide.