|Shane Williams gets up-ended by the Springbok's defence in Wellington [GALLO/GETTY]
Reigning champions South Africa edged a gripping contest with Wales by just one point on Sunday as Australia made an explosive start to their World Cup against Italy.
Ireland were unimpressive in a scrappy win over the United States, playing on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, as they joined the list of major sides found wanting on the first weekend.
In Wellington, South Africa trailed Wales with 15 minutes left, but they got out of jail with a Francois Hougaard try - and saw Wales' late drop goal and penalty attempts sail wide - to steal it 17-16 in the highlight of the action so far.
"It's going to be a most valuable lesson for us getting out of a pretty sticky situation," said Springboks skipper John Smit.
"There's a bit of work to do but we are pretty delighted with the way this evening went."
Earlier Australia switched on the after-burners in the second half as they scorched past Italy 32-6 at Auckland's North Harbour Stadium, led by the mercurial Quade Cooper.
Italy matched the two-time champions 6-6 at half-time, courtesy of a Mirco Bergamasco penalty brace, but Aussie prop Ben Alexander powered over on 51 minutes before Cooper set up tries for Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O'Connor and Digby Ioane.
Despite the slow start, it was an emphatic win by the Tri-Nations champions which underlined their status as the form team of the World Cup, where they are seeking a record third title.
"We got the balance of our attack a little bit more effective in the second half so we were able to build more pressure and the Italians took some breaking down," said coach Robbie Deans.
Meanwhile Ireland stuttered to victory over a fired-up American team, after an emotional 9/11 church service and a minute's silence before kick-off, at rain-soaked New Plymouth's Stadium Taranaki.
A try in each half from Tommy Bowe coupled with a Rory Best surge were enough for Ireland's 22-10 win, but it was unconvincing and their high error-count was underlined by Peter Emerick's intercept consolation try at the death.
Captain Brian O'Driscoll admitted Ireland, who lost all four warm-up games, had much to work on as they seek to improve on their group-stage exit at the last World Cup four years ago.
"We didn't play well. We really had to fight for our win," said Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll. "I suppose it's job done but we've got a hell of a lot to improve on."
In fall-out from Saturday's games, France coach Marc Lievremont launched an extraordinary attack on his own number eight Imanol Harinordoquy after their lacklustre 47-21 win over Japan.
"The way he played displeased me," said Lievrement, who will quit the team after the World Cup.
"At times he was very lackadaisical. Taking into account his experience and the role he plays in the team, it was annoying."
Argentina said centre Gonzalo Tiesi was out for the rest of the tournament with a knee injury, while their captain and fly-half Felipe Contepomi was struggling with bruised ribs after their crunching defeat to England.
Assistant coach John Wells said England were happy to come through Saturday's "massive test" against Argentina 13-9 courtesy of a late Ben Youngs try, despite scathing media criticism of the 2003 champions' performance.
Hosts New Zealand had also been patchy in their win against Tonga in the first match of the tournament, where they are seeking to end a 24-year jinx after winning the first World Cup in 1987.