An incredible game of rugby that Fiji dominated for long periods was only settled in the dying seconds as Karalaini Naisewa scored under the posts.
Fiji’s first-ever Rugby World Cup win had looked in jeopardy when Libbie Janse van Rensburg put South Africa in front for the first time in the match in the 79th minute.
But Fiji kept their nerve from the restart and another bullocking carry from irrepressible Mastercard Player of the Match Siteri Rasolea gave them the platform to get over the line and deny Zenay Jordaan a famous win on the occasion of her record-breaking 35th cap.
Had they lost it would have been a huge disappointment for Fiji who wowed the fans with another thrill-a-minute performance, but two disallowed tries and a determined South African defence meant they could never put clear water between themselves and the Springbok Women.
The first of those tries to be chalked off came as early as the fifth minute when openside Raijieli Daveua was denied by a forward pass in the build-up after a strong run down the centre of the pitch and offload from Sesenieli Donu set her on her way.
With forwards and backs running hard and giving the ball some air at every opportunity – Fiji’s offload count was into double figures inside 15 minutes – it felt only a matter though before the Pacific Islanders would get their first points, especially when South Africa were reduced to 14 players.
And within five minutes of Nomawethu Mabenge’s sin-binning for a deliberate knockdown on the edge, Ilisapeci Delaiwau finished off some slick interplay and Lavena Cavuru converted.
Staying true to their attacking spirit, Fiji continued to eat up the metres, taking quick tap penalties at every opportunity but a lack of execution and composure in the 22 prevented them from inflicting more damage on the scoreboard.
Incredibly, South Africa found themselves level when, in a rare attacking passage of play, Zintle Mpupha picked up a loose ball 25 metres out and scythed through a gaping hole in the Fijiana defence to score under the posts, Libbie Janse van Rensburg converting.
Fiji, however, went into the break with a deserved lead when Akanisi Sokoiwasa dotted down on the stroke of half-time after a couple more defence-denting runs from Rasolea. Cavuru added the extras.
Stiff resistance from the Springbok Women and another disallowed Fiji try for a knock-on kept the scoreline at 14-7 until just before the hour-mark when South Africa took advantage of a yellow card to Sokoiwasa to score their second try through Aseza Hele. There was no more deserving try-scorer than the number eight who carried the fight back to Fiji whenever she got her hands on the ball. Van Rensburg once again levelled the scores with the conversion.
The relentless pace of the game inevitably began to take its toll. With both sets of players tiring and the game on a knife edge, handling errors became more frequent and the penalty count, especially against South Africa, started to go through the roof.
Five minutes from time, Cavuru missed with one penalty opportunity from the tee and it looked like it would be costly when van Rensburg made no mistake from a similar distance.
However, Fiji backed themselves and got the win that keeps their hopes of progressing further in the competition alive.