O'Shea masterminds historic Italian victory
Italy 20 South Africa 18
Conor O'Shea's Italy claimed their first victory over South Africa in Florence on Saturday, in what visiting coach Allister Coetzee called the darkest moment of his career.
A delirious home crowd gave their team, ranked 13th in the world, a standing ovation after the match as the fourth-ranked visitors formed a lonely huddle mid-pitch, reviving memories of their shock loss to Japan in last year's World Cup.
Both sides scored two tries, but Italy fed off repeated South Africa mistakes and grew in confidence as the game wore on.
"I am extremely proud," veteran Italy captain Sergio Parisse said, calling it the best day for Italian rugby as the team continued their adventure under O'Shea.
The former Irish full-back, supported by Mike Catt as attack coach, has taken Italy back to basics, raised the intensity of training and adopted bold, new tactics. "For us, this is just a start but it's a very good one," O'Shea told reporters.
His South African counterpart Coetzee, facing mounting calls for him to be sacked, described it as embarrassing.
"It's the darkest moment of my coaching career," Coetzee said afterwards as his stony-faced captain, Adriaan Strauss, a cut above his left eye, stared into mid-air. "For us there is a mountain to climb and as a group we have to take full responsibility," he added.
Asked if he should quit, he suggested South African rugby authorities would decide his future.
"I don't think I have lost the changing room."
South Africa seemed intent on registering an emphatic win, opening with a try to Bryan Habana and turning down chances to kick penalties.
Within moments of Habana's try, after South Africa messed up the restart, Italy's South African-born lock Andries Van Schalkwyk went over from a rolling maul.
From there, the lead see-sawed as centre Damian de Allende ran in a second try for the visitors and Italy hit back with winger Giovanbattista Venditti touching down.
Italy had a try disallowed in the dying moments of the match, but by then a famous victory was secured thanks to an earlier penalty goal by Carlo Canna.
ITALY: Padovani; Bisegni, Benvenuti, McLean, Venditti; Canna (Allan, 70), Bronzini (Gori, 70); Parisse, Favaro, Minto (Steyn, 59); Van Schalkwyk (Biagi 27), Fuser; Cittadini (Ferrari 40), Gega, Panico Quaglio (40).
SOUTH AFRICA: Le Roux (Goosen, 70); Combrinck, Venter, de Allende, Habana; Lambie (Jantjies, 52), Paige (de Klerk, 52); Whiteley, Alberts (Mohoje 64), Carr; du Toit, de Jager (Mostert, 70); Koch (Nyakane, 52), Strauss (Mbonambi, 76), Mtawarira (Kitshoff, 52).
REF: G Clancy (Ire).