The South Africans dominated play for most of the match and held a 22-10 at the break, scoring six tries in the victory. The win was also a first for interim coach Louis Koen and his assistant on tour, Laurian Johannes-Haupt.
The decision to target Spain up front worked to a tee for the coaching staff, who saw their team off to a perfect start in the match. The won the first collision, forced a turn-over and which resulted in a penalty. The ball was kicked to the corner for an attacking lineout and Lindelwa Gwala was worked over under a heap of bodies.
Libbie Janse van Rensburg kicked the conversion, and the Bok Women were off to the perfect start.
Spain, playing with a strong wind in their backs, responded with some strong attacks in the next couple of minutes, but strong defence kept them at bay in the early exchanges.
The Spaniards got onto the board after 10 minutes when captain Cristina Blanco drove over from a short distance. The conversion levelled the scores.
Spain took the lead 15 minutes in with a penalty goal by fullback Claudia Pena. The kick was an easy one after the visitors were judged offside at a lineout near their line.
The lead was short-lived, however. Three minutes later, a powerful Bok scrum handed them a second try, this time a peach from outside centre, Shaunique Hess. No 8 Aseza Hele broke wide following a powerful scrum surge and the ball was send through the hands and to the outside where Hess collected and scored in the corner for her first test try.
The lead was extended three minutes later, with Babalwa Latsha crashing over from short range. The run was preceded by a good backline move which saw Jakkie Cilliers being tackled meters from the line. Hele carried again and from the next recycle, Latsha crashed over.
The Bok Women had some good momentum at this stage and enjoyed good field position despite the strong wind in their faces.
Spain's prop Ines Antolinez was yellow carded just before the break and South Africa pounced when the host team opted to sacrifice a backline player. With a player down in the backs, their defence overcompensated after yet another strong scrum and Janse van Rensburg sliced through a gap to score a peach of a try. That edged the visitors 22-10 ahead at the break.
Spain started the second half in the perfect fashion. They won the kick-off and SA was pinged for going offside. A quick tap and a strong run by Pena saw her sprinting 30m past opponents to close the lead to seven points again.
The Springbok Women bounced back immediately, and Hess scored a brilliant try, beating three defenders in the narrowest of spaces. The conversion bounced off the upright but the lead was back to 12 points.
A yellow card to Lusanda Dumke after an TMO intervention gave Spain some momentum, but good spot tackling by the backs forced a Spanish knock-on.
The home side got lucky with their third try. Lock Kassandra Sylla charged down a Tayla Kinsey clearance kick and showed her soccer skills to dribble ahead and score, which closed the gap to one score again with just over 20 minutes to play.
South Africa enjoyed good possession, but strong defence by Spain kept them at bay. The pressure started to tell though as Spain conceded a penalty near their own line, the Boks forced an attacking lineout and Roseline Botes was driven over by the pack, only minutes after she replaced Gwala at hooker.
Cilliers missed a late penalty to get to the magic number of 15 points lead – needed to overhaul Spain on the world ranking - but Janse van Rensburg made no mistake in the last minute of play to seal the deal from 40 meters out.
South Africa 35 (22) - Tries: Lindelwa Gwala, Shauniqe Hess (2), Babalwa Latsha, Libbie Janse van Rensburg, Roseline Botes. Conversion: Libbie Janse van Rensburg. Penalty goal: Janse van Rensburg.
Spain 20 (10) - Tries: Cristina Blanco, Claudia Pena, Kassandra Sylla. Conversion: Claudia Pena. Penalty goal: Pena.