Debutant Elrigh Louw and 2019 World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe admitted the Springboks had to dig deep to pull off a nail-biting victory over Wales on Saturday.
The Boks delivered a dogged second-half performance to claw their way back from 18-3 down at half time against Wales at Loftus Versfeld.
Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx and Kolbe crossed the try line before the hosts were awarded a penalty try, which gave them a five-point lead before a late try by Wales levelled the scores at 29-29.
Damian Willemse then stepped up to seal a 32-29 victory with a penalty goal after the siren had sounded.
The Boks and Wales will meet in Bloemfontein on Saturday in the second match of the three-Test series.
“It was a dream come true,” said Louw, who earned his first Test cap for the Boks on Saturday. “We were under pressure, but the guys that came on in the second half built momentum and that’s exactly what their responsibility was.
“Going into the game I knew exactly what I had to do when I took the field, and it was great to see the confidence the other players gave me.”
With the pressure heaped on in the second half, Louw said he pushed emotions aside and simply focused on the task at hand.
“It was probably more emotional when I found out I made the team,” the loose forward added.
“When I ran onto the field I knew what I had to do, so I didn’t really think about the emotions. My mom and dad were obviously proud and I’m sure they had a tear or two in their eyes though.”
Kolbe spoke openly about the Boks’ performance in Pretoria and how their first-half performance was not what the South Africans had hoped for.
“Wales play a similar game to ours and in the end it was about who wanted it most,” said Kolbe, who played in his 19th Test and scored his 10th try for the Boks.
“We stuck to the plan, and managed to execute it in the end. It was a team effort, and it was great that we could have a positive impact on the game.
He added: “The first 20 minutes was not on par with what we wanted, and it was not good enough.
“There were a few harsh words at half-time, but we are grown men and we want to make each other proud.
“In the last few minutes, we kept the ball, played in their half, and we lifted the intensity and maintained the pressure and tried to show more pride.”
Kolbe also hailed Willemse’s performance in what marked his first start in the Bok jersey in front of a home crowd in South Africa: “He has been an incredible player since he left school and he has done well when thrown in the deep end since he played U18 level.
“It was great to see how he managed. I think he has a lot more to offer the Boks still and I’m sure he will keep improving.”
The Boks moved camp to Bloemfontein on Sunday for the clash at Free State Stadium.