Irish fightback not enough
Ireland's homecoming to Lansdowne Road ended in frustration as they slumped to a 23-21 defeat - their fourth successive Test defeat - after their late fightback fell just short.
Trailing 23-9 with 15 minutes to go, the appearance of Ronan O'Gara from the bench coincided with a scoring spree that almost reeled in the Springboks.
O'Gara, who was winning his 100th cap, teed up a try for Tommy Bowe with a crossfield kick and then supplied the scoring pass for Rob Kearney's touch down.
Presented with a touchline conversion to level the match, the Lions fly-half struck the crossbar and Ireland failed to trouble the scoreboard again in the remaining five minutes.
It was a rousing finish to an otherwise poor spectacle that did little to mask the shortcomings of a side that looked rusty and disjointed.
Aggrieved at having been written off in the build-up, underdogs South Africa were given all the ammunition they needed to make a triumphant opening to their grand slam tour.
Juan Smith and Gio Aplon ran in tries while Morne Steyn kicked nine points but the Springboks, who avoided a fourth straight defeat in the fixture, were hardly commanding.
For Ireland, their debut at the Aviva Stadium turned out to be deeply disappointing for reasons beyond the performance on the pitch.
Rows of empty seats greeted the teams at kick-off, a result of the ticketing fiasco that forced to Irish Rugby Football Union to issue an apology on Monday.