Masterful Ireland lower Springbok colours
Ireland 29 South Africa 15
Second-half tries from Rhys Ruddock and Tommy Bowe ensured Ireland began their season as reigning Six Nations champions in the best possible fashion - with heir first victory in three attempts against the second best team in the world.
It was a remarkable victory for a depleted Irish who were missing 17 players - and an 18th, Chris Henry, would fall victim to a shock sudden illness on the morning of the game.
But Ireland defied a creaking scrum to produce some magnificent defence and the perfect incisions when they were needed while Jonathan Sexton, whose late miss last season was a factor in an agonising defeat, was flawless from the kicking tee.
Sexton was man of the match as Ireland, who led by 6-3 at the break, grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the third quarter.
Ireland, 5-2 favourites for the win, struck a blow even before a ball was kicked when flanker was Chris Henry was dramatically ruled out with what the IRFU claimed was a virus earlier in the day; Rhys Ruddock came into the side to win his fourth cap, with Tommy O'Donnell earning promotion to the bench.
It didn't upset the reigning Six Nations champions, however, as they dominated the opening minutes and when Jack McGrath screwed a penalty from the game's second scrum, Jonathan Sexton struck the resultant penalty for a ninth minute confidence booster.
South Africa were dangerous on their own attack ball, especially from loose Irish kicking and two turned over lineouts and Sexton as forced to hack clear from his own line when the visitors seemed set to benefit from an elaborate over-lap.
Handre Pollard, their sensational young out-half, missed a chance to level from distance when Ireland conceded their first penalty of the game in the 17th minute.
A scintillating, scything run from Irish full-back Rob Kearney created the momentum to draw gasps from the sold out Aviva attendance and second blood from Sexton's boot as his 24th minute penalty doubled the hosts' lead.
Ireland's midfield combination of debutant Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw were coping well on their high-profile audition.
South Africa had their first scrum feed after 25 minutes from which they easily won a penalty but, after declining the shot at goal, their option of a lineout maul was resolutely repelled by the feisty hosts.
However, Jack McGrath conceded another penalty; again the visitors declines the easy three-pointer and again Ireland's stout defence was rock solid; these were emerging as defining moments in the game.
Finally, Ireland won a scrum and they cleared the danger but South Africa were now dominating possession and territory.
From another penalty concession - the sixth - just two minutes before the break, Pollard registered the opening score but Ireland would have been happier to have escaped with a 6-3 half-time lead.
They were even happier less than two minutes into the second act; it all started from a positive kick and chase from Henshaw to put the pressure on Willie le Roux deep in he corner.
From the resultant close-in lineout, Ruddock's extraordinary day soared to even more extraordinary heights as he poured through the weak defensive maul to score; Sexton's extras made it a barely credible 13-3 lead.
South Africa defeated the All Blacks three weeks ago with this team though and, as Ireland's scrum deteriorated and the high number of tackles took their toll, they were stung by a perfectly executed lineout maul, scored by Marcell Coetzee and converted by Pollard.
Ireland had a breather in the 62nd minute when Duane Vermeulen's high tackle on his opposite number eight, captain Jamie Heaslip, allowed Sexton, who seemed to be struggling with a leg injury, a chance to extend the Irish lead once more.
Unerringly, the out-half bisected the posts and they led by six once more; could they hold out where they had failed to do against the All Blacks a year ago? A huge defensive tackle from Paul O'Connell on Schalk Burger, which ignited the crowd, offered every hope they could do just that.
They were given a helping hand by Adrian Strauss - cousin of Irish replacement Richardt - when he dumbly and deliberately took Kearney out in the air.
Vermuelen had to throw from touch and Ireland, renewing their physical assault, turned the ball over and Sexton had a chance for a nine-point lead, almost from the same spot where so agonisingly missed against New Zealand.
It was a much easier kick and the Racing Metro man made no mistake to make it 19-10 with just ten minutes remaining as JP Pietersen's last-minute consolation failed to dampen Irish spirits. Bowe's late score had already garlanded a magnificent performance which Ireland will seek to repeat against Michael Cheika's Australia in a fortnight.
Ireland: R Kearney (F Jones 75); T Bowe, J Payne (E Reddan 79), R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan 75), C Murray; J McGrath (D Kilcoyne 75), S Cronin (R Strauss 58), M Ross (R Ah You 74), D Toner (M McCarthy 74), P O'Connell, P O'Mahony, R Ruddock, J Heaslip capt.
South Africa: W le Roux; C Hendricks (JP Pietersen 50), J Serfontein, J de Villiers capt, B Habana; H Pollard (P Lambie 67), F Hougaard (C Reinach 57); T Mtawarira (T Nyakane 70), B du Plessis (A Strauss 51), J du Plessis (C Ooshuizen 71), E Etzebeth (B Botha 65), V Matfield, M Coetzee (B du Plessis 72), D Vermeulen, T Mohoje (S Burger 48).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)