The Ireland Under-20s bagged their best ever result in IRB Junior World Championship history and laid down a marker for the 2012 tournament by overcoming host nation South Africa in Stellenbosch.
Mike Ruddock's youngsters outshone the pre-match favourites in almost all facets of the game, with their intensity, physicality and tactical awareness – allied to their composure in a gripping finish – guiding them to an historic win on South African soil.
Ruddock called on his talented squad to shock the home side and they duly did, led by man-of-the-match JJ Hanrahan who kicked 13 crucial points and skilfully pushed Ireland forward in open play.
Hanrahan converted Jordan Coghlan's 27th-minute try to give the visitors a 13-3 half-time lead which was founded on a solid set piece game and muscular, aggressive defending.
Ireland looked much the sharper up to that point, but predictably the South Africans clawed their way back into contention. A close range try from lock Paul Willemse gave them momentum, while out-half Tony Jantjies was assured from the kicking tee.
He converted Willemse's effort and also landed his second and third penalties to make it 16-16 just past the hour mark, with Hanrahan sandwiching in a smartly-taken drop goal.
Captain Niall Scannell was part of a hugely determined Irish pack and they took everything South Africa could throw at them in a tense final 20 minutes.
Ireland's ability to charge down the home half-backs was a feature throughout this Pool B opener, and one such incident led to a timely second try for Ruddock's side.
Replacement James Rael blocked an attempted clearance kick and retrieved possession before being driven up close to the try-line. Recent Ulster debutant Iain Henderson picked off the base and fend off two initial defenders and stretched over past a third for an inspirational try.
Hanrahan, in his second Junior World Championship, held his nerve brilliantly to add the conversion from the left and Ireland the benefit of a 23-16 cushion heading into the closing stages.
The Junior Springboks had the better of both possession and territory as they tried desepartely to hit back. But a fourth penalty from Jantjies was their only reward as Ireland stood firm to record their first win over South Africa at this level and the stand-out result of the opening round.
The players and Ruddock's management team deserve immense credit for the manner of this victory, as it was just twelve months ago that the 2011 Ireland side suffered two heavy beatings by the Baby 'Boks.
Given that they have lost the services of Shane Layden and captain Paddy Jackson in recent weeks, this Stellenbosch success is all the more impressive.
It puts Ireland second in the Pool B table ahead of their mouth-watering clash with England on Friday, the sides' first meeting since the English won a Six Nations decider in March.
Ireland set a high intensity right from the start in Stellenbosch, forcing South Africa back in the tackle and competing hard at the breakdown. Jack Conan, Des Merrey and second row Henderson was particularly prominent in laying the defensive platform.
The Baby 'Boks could not make use of the early territory, although with Merrey and Hanrahan ruled offside Jantjies kicked his team ahead from a 10th minute penalty.
Ireland worked their way up the pitch, Scannell barging forward from a stolen lineout and Peter Nelson linking well with Sam Coghlan Murray in the first flash of attacking flair from the backs.
Solid scrummaging from props Merrey and Tadhg Furlong added to Ireland's confidence as did their ability to hound South Africa into errors.
Henderson did really well to swarm over Paul Jordaan and win a penalty on the 22. It was a tough, left-sided 37-metre kick for Hanrahan but he slotted it with aplomb to bring the sides level.
From the restart, Hanrahan dummied a pass and broke out of his 22 on a charging run with good support from his industrious half-back partner Kieran Marmion.
Their efforts helped set up a second penalty opportunity – this time from a central position – and although Hanrahan made a poor connection, the ball went through the uprights for a 6-3 lead.
Just three minutes later, Ireland were celebrating their first try. Jantjies took too long on a clearance kick and was blocked down by Conor Gilsenan whose back row colleague Coghlan was first to the bouncing ball and he broke the first tackle and dived in under the posts for an opportunist try.
Hanrahan added the extras and Ruddock's charges went in search of more points before the break. A half break from Marmion and snappy play again from Hanrahan and Coghlan Murray kept the Baby 'Boks on the back foot.
Furlong and Tadhg Beirne, who did well in the engine room alongside Henderson, both stood out in the loose as Ireland pressed, however the visitors were unable to take advantage of a terrific touch-finding kick from Hanrahan.
Noted for their powerful packs, South Africa roared out of the traps in the second half with a well-orchestrated maul which gained 20 metres for them.
Ireland managed to disrupt it and Hanrahan's influential boot got his forwards on the move again. Still, the Junior Springboks were beginning to cause more problems with the home support getting behing them.
They tried to turn the screw at a couple of five-metre scrums and although Ireland coped well defensively, Willemse succeeded in turning out of a tackle and crashing over from close range for a 53rd minute try.
Jantjies' conversion reduced the arrears to three points and the hosts had the clear momentum. Importantly, Ireland hit back within four minutes as strong running from Chris Farrell and Coghlan Murray preceded Hanrahan's crisp drop goal.
Try-scoring chances were few and far between with both defences standing up to the task. But with a place-kicker as precise as Jantjies was proving, South Africa increased the pressure again.
Two ruck infringements were punished by the South African number 10 who knocked over a brilliant brace of kicks from the 40-metre range to suddenly erase Ireland's lead.
Credit to the Baby 'Boks, they showed their undoubted quality as players of the calibre of Shaun Adendorff, Pat Howard and Mark Pretorius made the hard yards.
Yet Ireland responded again in lightning fashion. Replacement scrum half Vian van der Watt took a fraction too long with a box kick and Rael nipped in to block him and regain possession, charging towards the whitewash.
His drive was halted just short of the whitewash but with excellent support, Henderson got on the ball and used his strength and height to reach over for a vital second try. Hanrahan nervelessly converted and the gap was back out to seven points.
Ireland were not about to let a famous triumph slip through their grasp and using the same determination and game management that saw them win in France in February, Ruddock's well-drilled outfit had the skills and smarts to claim a big southern Hemisphere scalp.
TIME LINE: 10 minutes – South Africa penalty: Tony Jantjies – 3-0; 22 mins – Ireland penalty: JJ Hanrahan – 3-3; 24 mins – Ireland penalty: JJ Hanrahan – 3-6; 27 mins – Ireland try: Jordan Coghlan – 3-11; conversion: JJ Hanrahan – 3-13; Half-time – South Africa 3 Ireland 13; 53 mins – South Africa try: Paul Willemse – 8-13; conversion: Tony Jantjies – 10-13; 57 mins – Ireland drop goal: JJ Hanrahan – 10-16; 60 mins – South Africa penalty: Tony Jantjies – 13-16; 64 mins – South Africa penalty: Tony Jantjies – 16-16; 66 mins – Ireland try: Iain Henderson – 16-21; conversion: JJ Hanrahan – 16-23; 71 mins – South Africa penalty: Tony Jantjies – 19-23; Full-time – South Africa 19 Ireland 23
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)