While the Boks also learned that lock Bakkies Botha suddenly announced his retirement from international rugby, the poor display will give coach Heyneke Meyer with plenty to ponder.
Leading by just 8-6 at halftime, the Boks scored three tries to zero. Italy, with captain and No 8 Sergio Parisse leading from the front, managed effectively to slow the Boks’ ball down and not allow them any space to operate in.
It was only when fullback Willie le Roux, debutant flank Nizaam Carr and flyhalf Handre Pollard were sent onto the field from the bench late in the second half that the Boks managed to find a few holes in the spirited Italian defence.
It was Carr who off-loaded superbly in the 60th minute to send scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who otherwise struggled with his slow service, away to eventually increase the narrow 8-6 lead to 15-6.
And with time almost finished on the clock, Le Roux combined superbly with Pollard to send wing Bryan Habana away for a final scoreline visit.
A lot of niggle crept into the game with French referee Jerome Garces, heavily favoured by the home town support, allowed the home side to fall over at will at the contact areas which slowed the frustrated Boks’ ball down and contributed to a poor night for the South African side.
The Boks were confronted by a hugely committed Italian defence in the first half and had to settle for a tender 8-6 lead at the break after prop Coenie Oosthuizen scored the only try of the half in the 22nd minute when he bulldozed himself over the line.
Pat Lambie kicked one penalty in the 15th minute to level scores at 3-3, but missed the conversion of Oosthuizen’s try, while Italy flyhalf Kella Haimona kicked two penalties in the 11th and 40th minutes, but also missed a long-range one in the eight minute.
The Boks conceded a tighthead early in the first half but bounced back with a tighthead of their own as Oosthuizen grew stronger. However, two attacking lineouts lost on the Azzurri tryline would have concerned lock Victor Matfield.
The Boks now move on to face Wales in Cardiff for their final Test match of the year and will be without the services of their overseas-based players.