The Triple Crown champions arrived with a big reputation, but it lay in tatters following a largely insipid display.
They had only themselves to blame because they had many opportunities but frittered these away on wasted option-taking, a lack of conviction on the ball, indiscipline and an inability to cope with the intensity.
South Africa were the masters of slow strangulation: commanding, unflappable and altogether more cool. For all that, the match itself lacked compulsion and atmosphere; a fact partly inspired by the lame performance of referee Tony Spreadbury who forever seemed caught between players and eccentric indecision.
There had been anxious expectations among South Africans in the prelude, but Jake White's new class delivered in emphatic fashion. It was impossible to argue with a four-try-to-one ratio and the score could have been greater but for Gaffie du Toit putting down a couple of kicks.
The foundation of the win was established on the game's fundamentals: outstanding defence, solid set-piece play and hard, straight running. The forwards, especially, were magnificent. The game's critical moment, and the one that effectively killed off the Irish challenge, came when Bakkies Botha poached a defensive Irish lineout from Paul O'Connell and hammered home his second try, in the 53rd minute. The audacity of it deserved marvel, particularly as Ireland had been so solid in this area and would normally bank on securing possession under such circumstances.
It was particularly apt that it was Botha. He enjoyed a thunderous Test and eclipsed the efforts of every other player. Solid in the lineouts, he also tackled ferociously, drove the ball up with vigour and cleaned out with the stealth of an assassin. It was also Botha who got the new Bok show on the road with the first try of the match, a direct consequence of a mighty Os du Randt cleaning out at the ruck combined with limp Irish tackling.
Ireland certainly had their moments, not least when Brian O'Driscoll, their captain and centre, carved his way through with consummate ease to set up their only try for Shane Horgan. O'Driscoll was a constant threat, creating space, getting over the gainline or freeing up players around him, but his was largely a lone crusade. Moreover, the Irish suffered a mortal blow when Gordon D'Arcy limped off after a half hour.
Ireland are traditionally combative up front but they were flayed yesterday as Du Randt, in particular, outmuscled his opposite. Eddie Andrews, the debutant tighthead, also had a fine match and showed there is much more to come from him. He deserved every cheer that rung out when he was later substituted.
The trouble with Ireland was that although they were honest scrappers, they lacked an edge. Any foundation they had hoped for dissolved as they took a hiding in the loose, turned ball over and made a hash of the restarts.
Despite turning on even terms, SA's rhythm was coldly disciplined - all they needed to do was hold their nerve. With the Boks keeping things close to their bigger, stronger forwards, Wayne Julies profited from good ball-carrying by Victor Matfield and Jacques Cronje for his score. It was already a sign that Ireland were beginning to fragment, a mood confirmed soon after with Botha's second try.
It was the story of Ireland's day too hesitant, too anxious and too sloppy against a team utterly desperate to defy the odds. But it wasn't all dreamland and delight for the Boks. Pedrie Wannenburg was awarded a try by the tellyref that had dog's breakfast written all over it appropriate, because that's the sort of afternoon Wannenburg endured.
Schalk Burger spoiled an otherwise outstanding afternoon - he was destroyer-in-chief at the breakdowns - by adding to a growing collection of yellow cards, this time for a stiff-arm tackle.
Jaco van der Westhuyzen put a heap of pressure on his opposite, Ronan O'Gara, but he needs to improve his consistency to solidify his place. There was too much so-so play mixed with superb from him.
Also, the back three of Breyton Paulse, Henno Mentz and Gaffie du Toit never saw much attacking ball, although Du Toit put in some monster kicks which served to demoralise the Irish.
Naturally, expectations will now rise after the finest of starts. And rise they should: the new dawn looks unexpectedly bright.
Clinton Van Der Berg - Sunday Times, (SA)