Gio Aplon's try gave the Boks a decisive lead in Dublin
Ireland coach Declan Kidney said his side's poor start left them with too much to do as they slipped to a 23-21 defeat at home to South Africa.
Early mistakes gave the Boks a 10-0 lead and they held on to ruin Ireland's first night party at the Aviva Stadium.
"We felt we needed to win the field position battle in the first hour and didn't win that," Kidney stated.
"We felt with 10-15 minutes to go we would be fresher but we gave ourselves too much of a hill to climb."
When asked if Ireland had tried to play with the ball in hand too much in the opening stages as heavy rain fell in Dublin, Kidney replied: "It's a balance between what you want to do and what you do at the right times.
"The players will only learn from that and a lot of that is in our control."
Ireland nearly pulled off a dramatic fightback as they rallied from 23-9 down to the width of a post away from drawing level, as Ronan O'Gara's attempted conversion of Rob Kearney's late try came back off the woodwork.
The revival came about after Kidney introduced veteran half-backs O'Gara - winning his 100th cap - and Peter Stringer.
"O'Gara and Stringer had a positive effect but they were also getting better ball from in front of them," Kidney reflected.
Looking forward to next Saturday's game against Samoa, Kidney added: "We have to work hard and be a bit cuter in the first 60 minutes."
Disappointed Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll blamed ring-rustiness for the defeat.
"Overall you can put it down to being the first Test of the year and hopefully we will get better from here," O'Driscoll commented.
"It was tough conditions out there and the greasy ball made it very difficult to play in.
"Both sides made a lot of unforced errors and you just had to stick it up the jumper at times.
"Their mauling off line-outs was very productive for them and they were able to kick a couple of penalties from pulled down mauls.
"Conditions were a bit easier towards the end but we still had to kick the ball into the air and chase it."