Ireland's hopes of humbling South Africa were picked apart in a one-sided second half as the visitors secured a 16-12 win in the Guinness Series opener at Aviva Stadium.
Jonathan Sexton kicked four penalties as the Irish seized the 12-3 interval lead their dominance deserved, only for the Springboks to then ignite their power game.
Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar crossed for the night's only try in the 45th minute and Pat Lambie kicked 11 points as South Africa took control.
The result condemned Ireland to a fifth successive Test defeat, which is their worst losing run for 14 years, as they failed to claim redemption for a painful 60-0 drubbing by New Zealand in June.
Missing the highly-influential Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney to injury, they entered the match unburdened by high expectations.
But despite the absence of six key personnel, they will be disappointed by their inability to dispatch opposition that was lethargic and pedestrian in the first half.
Ireland have won three of their last four meetings with South Africa and this was a missed opportunity to improve that sequence.
The absence of Lions captains O'Driscoll and O'Connell saw Jamie Heaslip lead the team for the first time and while he sought to inspire his side, he was sin-binned in the second half.