Pat Lambie added a penalty after the break, but Italy's intensity reaped a reward when Giovanbattista Venditti and Carlo Canna added the conversion to give Italy a 17-15 lead going into the final quarter.
FLORENCE, Italy Nov 19 The South African camp apologised to their nation after suffering a first-ever rugby defeat by Italy on Saturday.
Tries from Dries van Schalkwyk and Giovanbattista Venditti helped steer the home side to their first victory over the Springboks, who surrendered a 12-10 half-time lead.
We also have to review such things as how we manage the fact that so many of our leading players are now based outside South Africa and more are being lured there. I was totally in agreement with him!
"I am extremely proud", veteran Italy captain Sergio Parisse said, calling it the best day for Italian rugby.
"We faced a national great, that even in a time of trouble, is a team with great ability".
Italy's Sergio Parisse, right, embraces South Africa's Bryan Habana at the end of the worldwide rugby union test match between Italy and South Africa, in Florence, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.
Amid South African protests, the try was ruled out by video replays.
"We are at an all-time low", said Jean de Villiers, who captained South Africa in its famous shock defeat to Japan at the 2015 World Cup.
Sergio Parisse escapes with the ball to lead an Italian charge
"When you concede defeat by almost 60 points (against New Zealand), not many people are going to think positively of you, but this week we worked and focused on correcting the mistakes we made against the All Blacks".
The result added yet another dark chapter to South African rugby history which was shaken right down to its foundations when they succumbed to Japan at last year's World Cup.
South Africa have now lost six of their past seven Tests and 53-year-old coach Allister Coetzee is facing the chop.
"I would say it's the darkest moment of my coaching career".
"It's not good enough losing to Italy".
"I can only congratulate them on an outstanding performance from a team that has maybe lacked belief, and a young team without any pressure on them".
"Today, we made a lot of mistakes and we had some problems with discipline". We still have much to do to change the rugby in Italy, but we have the right potential and ability to do it.
It was a thoroughly depressing display by the Boks and there is now a real possibly that they could go winless on this three-Test tour after they were humiliated by England last week. Edoardo Padovani kicked a penalty on the half hour to leave them just two points behind, 12-10 at the break.
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He didn't know any of the boys who were involved and hadn't noticed any tension in the school prior to the attack. Giles said his officers were still investigating a motive and could not say whether bullying was a factor.