South Africa slumped to their third consecutive Tri-Nations defeat in 2011, going down 14-9 to Australia at Kings Park in Durban.
The Wallabies scored all their points in the second half as they came back from being 6-0 down at half-time, scoring the only try of the game through centre Pat McCabe.
For many South African fans the 'real' Tri-Nations kicked off in Durban as the defending world champions brought back the bulk of the first-choice players and lined up the most experienced Springbok team in history.
But after a solid start, the hosts' big guns failed to fire in the second half and were outdone by an Australian side that coped better with the changing conditions.
The result means that South Africa can no longer win the Tri-Nations - the 2011 crown will be decided when the All Blacks visit Brisbane at the end of the month.
The Springboks were worth their six-point lead at the break and looked to have the upper hand but failed to carry that momentum into the second period as they struggled to maintain possession as the drizzle at half time turned to steady rain.
The Wallabies will be pleased with how their set piece responded after the break, especially at scrum time.
As the scoreline suggests, it was far from Australia's prettiest victory but Robbie Deans will be happy with the grit his side showed as they fronted up to the typically physical Boks playing typically direct rugby.
Full-back Francois Steyn opened the scoring with a trademark long-range penalty in the second minute after Australia skipper Rocky Elsom was penalised for a dangerous tackle.
Butch James doubled the Boks' lead with a 16th-minute penalty in what started off as a fast-paced encounter.
South Africa centre Jacques Fourie was denied a try by the TMO, who judged he had knocked on as he battled with Quade Cooper to bring a high kick under control and the scorers would not be troubled again until half time as both James O'Connor and Steyn were also off-target with with further penalty and drop-goal attempts respectively.
Australia got on the scoreboard soon after the break when O'Connor landed his first penalty.
And the Kings Park crowd were silenced completely when McCabe rounded off a slick passing move to score the first and only try of the match and put Australia 8-6 in front.
A James penalty gave the lead back to the Springboks but an infringement by Tendai Mtawarira at a ruck allowed O'Connor to strike again after 65 minutes.
O'Connor stretched the lead to five points with a 74th-minute penalty and, despite desperate attempts by South Africa to find a match-levelling try, the Wallabies held on.
South Africa host New Zealand in Port Elizabeth next Saturday.
Man of the match: The Wallaby pack stepped the intensity up a notch in the second half and hooker Stephen Moore was a tireless grafter all around the park.
Moment of the match: There could only be one choice here. With all the hard work done by the Wallaby forwards, the hosts were in trouble when Quade Cooper sent the ball out wide where there was a huge overlap. There was little Heinrich Brüssow or the injured Frans Steyn could do to prevent Pat McCabe's try
Villain of the match: No nasty stuff to report.
For South Africa:
Pens: F. Steyn, James 2
Pens: O'Connor 3
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Morne Steyn, 22 Gio Aplon.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 James Horwill, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Anthony Faingaa.
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)