CONNACHT 3 SOUTH AFRICA 18, The Sportsground (Att: 5,000)
Scorers: Connacht: Pen: Andy Dunne
South Africa: Tries: Ashwin Willemse, Jacques Cronje; Con: Butch James; Pens: Butch James, Andre Pretorius
Connacht made two changes to their team before kick-off with UCD student Brian McGovern being called up for his first professional game at tighthead prop, replacing new signing Robbie Morris, and Sligo's Peter Durcan taking over from Danny Riordan at full-back.
It was an inauspicious start for the hosts as John Muldoon spilt the ball into touch off the kick-off. But despite leaking a third-minute penalty which Butch James converted, Connacht grew in confidence as the game progressed, helped by their impressive defence.
The westerners, backed by the wind in the first half, weathered an early storm from the South African pack as the visitors tried to steamroll through the middle.
The 'Boks' forwards impressed in the early stages, with flanker Wikus van Heerden particularly prominent, but they could never exert complete control and on three occasions they had close range attacks halted by Connacht.
Jake White's side, supreme at the breakdown, created four try-scoring chances out on the left flank yet they could not convert them as the Connacht try line remained intact.
The game was 20 minutes' old when Connacht got their first real chance to attack. It came from a half break from new out-half Tim Donnelly who teed up fellow debutant Ofisa Treviranus for a burst forward, and young lock David Gannon gain further yardage before Connacht were frustratingly penalised at a ruck deep in the visitors' 22.
With try-scoring chances at a premium, Donnelly attempted two drop goals close to half-time but neither came off and the Australian was also wide of the mark from a 50-metre penalty.
Just 3-0 in arrears at the break, Connacht were rocked back onto their heels four minutes into the second half when a shunt forward from the Boks' pack led to James evading a tackle and a swift break led to winger Willemse touching down.
Just when it looked like South Africa would hit top gear, a yellow card for their hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who landed a punch on Connacht scrum half Conor McPhillips, and a penalty miss from James saw them stall at 8-0 in front.
Connacht drew heart when replacement Andy Dunne, the former Leinster player, kicked a 64th-minute penalty to make it a five-point game and the capacity crowd roared their approval.
But restored to their full fifteen, White's charges killed off Connacht's hopes of an upset with their second try through replacement Cronje. It came twelve minutes from the finish when a left-sided lineout saw the 'Boks probe the hosts' fringe defence and a neat pass from Gary Botha allowed Cronje rumble over under the posts.
James converted and replacement Andre Pretorius flung over a penalty in the 71st-minute to add to the buffer. The game was then beyond Connacht but Michael Bradley's men can take much from this showing. More of the same against French side Castres next Tuesday and Connacht supporters will rightly have renewed optimism for the season ahead.
Connacht: Peter Durcan; Ofisa Treviranus, Mel Deane, Aidan Wynne, John Hearty; Tim Donnelly, Conor McPhillips; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Brian McGovern, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements: Johnny O'Connor for Ofisa, Michael McCarthy for Muldoon (both 47 mins), Andy Dunne for Donnelly (49), Michael Swift for Farley (57), John Lyne for Wilkinson (60), Muldoon for Rigney (63), Tom Tierney for McPhillips, Joe Merrigan for Flavin (both 66), Farley for Gannon (69), McPhillips for Treviranus (75).
South Africa: JP Pietersen; Akona Ndungane, Waylon Murray, Butch James, Ashwin Willemse; Ruan Pienaar, Ricky Januarie; Gurthro Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, BJ Botha, Albert van den Berg, Johann Muller, Wikus van Heerden, Danie Rossouw, Bobby Skinstad (capt).
Replacements used: Bryan Habana for Ndungane (32 mins), Andre Pretorius for Willemse, Jacques Cronje for Skinstad (both 53), Gary Botha for BJ Botha, CJ van der Linde for Steenkamp (both 62). Not used: Bakkies Botha, Jaque Fourie.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)