A late try from Warren Whiteley spared South Africa's blushes as it came from behind to beat Argentina 30-23 in a frenetic Rugby Championship clash at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.
Argentina led 23-13 with 12 minutes remaining in the game but ran out of steam after a free-flowing display and found itself overhauled by Whiteley's try in the penultimate minute.
It was a harsh result for the visitors, who had made most of the running in the game.
South Africa began the tournament with talk of breaking away from its traditionally conservative game plan, but it was Argentina which showed more enterprise as it continually kept the ball in hand and offloaded well in the tackle.
"They were really good. Especially on first-phase ball, they were disrupting every ruck so we couldn't get quick ball," South Africa scrumhalf Faf de Klerk said.
"But to come back was very special and I think it shows a lot of talent in this group."
Although the Springboks made the initial breakthrough — with Elton Jantjies breaking the line to set up Ruan Combrink's eighth-minute try — the momentum shifted midway through the first half.
Oddly enough, it came when Argentina winger Manuel Montero was sent to the sin bin for clearing out an opposition player in reckless fashion.
Instead of going into its shell and playing for time, Argentina opened the game up and some excellent handling was rewarded when a counter-attack from deep inside its own half produced a try for center Matias Orlando.
With Johan Goosen and Jantjies both missing long-range penalty attempts for South Africa and Lionel Mapoe dropping the ball after he had crossed the line, Argentina went into halftime with a 13-10 lead.
"We left some points out there with the missed try and a couple of kicks, so we couldn't build that scoreboard pressure," South Africa captain Adriaan Strauss said.
"Instead we were chasing the game which makes it really difficult."
South Africa's attempts to get back in the game after the break were hampered when veteran Bryan Habana received the first yellow card of his 118-test career after he slipped and took out a player in the air.
Although there was no damage on the scoreboard, with the hosts instead drawing level just as Habana returned to the field, flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez looked to have sealed the match soon after when he landed a penalty and then sent a delicate chip over the South African defense to set up Santiago Cordero's try.
Yet South Africa was not to be denied.
First De Klerk's reverse pass sent Goosen over the line, and after Jantjies had leveled the scores with a penalty, Whiteley went crashing over in the left-hand corner to grab a dramatic victory for the home side.
"The number of penalties we conceded meant that we couldn't stay in their half of the field, which was the reason they beat us today," Argentina captain Agustin Creevy said.
"We need to learn how to close the game. We've improved a lot in the last year, which is why we're angry not to close the game."