Bongi Mbonambi has had to play second fiddle to Malcolm Marx for most of the season, and has hardly had game time since the first-choice Springbok hooker returned from injury.
But at the Stade de France in
The South Africans, down and out at 23-9 early in the second half following a try to French centre Mathieu Bastareaud, clawed their way back via a five-pointer by Sbu Nkosi and excellent goal-kicking by Handré Pollard.
But with time virtually up on the clock, the Boks won a penalty at a breakdown via Francois Louw, and Mbonambi kept his nerve for a series of critical lineouts after time was up.
Elton Jantjies kicked a penalty right to the French five-metre line, and after the first maul was stopped, referee Nigel Owens penalised the home team again, and a second drive from the Boks was well-set.
Mbonambi kept a steady hand at the back of the maul, and peeled away to the right to dive over for the winning touchdown.
But the Boks nearly lost the game in the first half alone. Coach Rassie Erasmus again adopted the conservative tactics that cost them a victory over England last week, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk kicking too much ball away – either as a box-kick, or downfield.
Some of those chips worked out well in driving the French back into their 22, but in general, it played into the home team’s hands as the likes of Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sbu Nkosi hardly got ball-in-hand.
The kick-fest saw Pollard and French No 9 Baptiste Serin exchange penalties, in addition to a drop goal by flyhalf Camille Lopez, which took a rather dour game to 9-9 after 34 minutes.
The match was burst open by French captain Guilhem Guirado, who broke away from a maul to force through a gap between De Klerk and Warren Whiteley, who may have felt that there was some obstruction from another French player.
And when Bastareaud bashed over after a high-ball miss by Nkosi, it looked like the Boks were going to suffer a third defeat in a row.
But then the comeback started immediately from the next kickoff, when Pieter-Steph du Toit drilled Sebastian Vahaamahina, and the loose ball was picked up by Nkosi, who dotted down.
Pollard added two further penalties to make it a one-point game at 23-22 with 18 minutes to go, but while the Boks adopted a more attacking approach in the second half, they were unable to turn their pressure into points.
Serin slotted another three-pointer to make it 26-22 with 12 minutes to go, but soon after that, Cheslin Kolbe thought he had scored following a spell-binding piece of attacking play.
But while Owens correctly ruled that he had lost the ball, he overlooked the fact that French flank Arthur Iturria had carried out a high tackle that should have resulted in a penalty try.
Nevertheless, the Boks kept plugging away, and thought they had scored the winning try in the closing stages when Willie le Roux put Dyantyi over in the corner.
But Owens ruled a forward pass, although he came back for another penalty.
Then it was over to Mbonambi, and with the final lineout, he hit Franco Mostert in the middle, and the Boks rumbled to the left, to the right, and then to the left again before the Stormers hooker dived over to win the game.
France 26 – Tries: Guilhem Guirado, Mathieu Bastareaud. Conversions: Baptiste Serin (2). Penalties: Serin (3). Drop Goal: Camille Lopez (1).
Springboks 29 – Tries: Sbu Nkosi, Bongi Mbonambi. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (5).