Ireland's prop Cian Healy (R) is tackled by South Africa's fly half Pat Lambie (2nd L)
Coach Heyneke Meyer admitted he delivered a few choice words at half time to turn South Africa's 'unacceptable' performance into victory in Dublin.
The Boks were fortunate not to be trailing by more than 12-3 at half time in their opening November Test match, with discipline a major issue and Ireland's Jonathan Sexton equally willing to punish any indiscretion.
A fourth defeat in five trips to Dublin looked on the cards, but following coach Meyer's intervention the visitors turned the game on its head and scored an unanswered 13 points to secure a deserved win.
"I can't tell you my message at half time," Meyer said, half smiling, after resorting to his version of the 'hairdryer' approach of Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson.
"There were a few harsh words, it was really unacceptable.
"We gave up too many penalties, we couldn't get going, it was very hard work.
"But (now) I'm very happy with my team. At 12-3 down they showed lots of character and I'm proud of them.
"They learned a lot today and it's a step forward."
Ruan Pienaar's second half try was the only time either side crossed the whitewash, in a game of few clear cut chances.
Stopping Ireland from crossing their line was a source of pride for Meyer, as was his side's ability to come from behind to earn victory.
"You'd like to play a game where you scored lots of tries, but this means more than beating Australia at home," he said.
"Speaking to the players at half time, I said we've always been ahead at half time in every game this year, even in two away games in Australia and New Zealand, but then we'd lost in the second half.
"I said this was the worst half I'd seen and told them they have 40 minutes to show us what we can do. The guys responded to that."
Victory was achieved without a group of injured first team regulars, but also despite the late withdrawal of Tendai Mtawarira, who was taken to hospital early on matchday with heart palpitations.
"We're very close, and most of us only heard of it when we woke up," Meyer revealed of The Beast's shock illness.
"The forwards' coach was surprised, and I was disappointed as he's a big part of the team, so it wasn't easy.
"It was a very difficult morning, but that's part of building character and I don't want to make excuses.
"The guys feel for him - he's out of hospital now and we'll make an announcement as soon as possible."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney said there were a few positives to be taken from his understrength side's showing, but not enough to overcome the feeling of defeat.
Following Argentina's victory in Wales, Ireland now need to beat the Pumas in two weeks time to boost their crucial ranking points.
"There'll always be positives somewhere, but we lost and that's the overriding feeling at the minute," Kidney said.
"We gave four guys their first experience and some others added to their little experience, so it's a tough learning curve.
"Obviously, we need to get something out of a match in a fortnight's time against Argentina and pick ourselves up for Fiji next week."