The Springboks had a racing start to thank for their win at King’s Park in the second part of the Durban double-header, with tries in the first quarter by Adriaan Strauss and JJ Engelbrecht.
With Morne Steyn adding both conversions and a couple of penalties, South Africa seemed to be romping home, but instead of buckling, Italy shrugged off these early setbacks and got on with trying to claw their way back into the game.
They stifled the home side for the remainder of the half to keep them at 20-0, then, after the break, took up where they left off and pummelled the Springbok line until a wonder between-the-legs pass from captain and No.8 Sergio Parisse put centre Alberto Sgarbi over the whitewash.
A conversion and penalty from stand-off Alberto Di Bernardo got them back into the game until Steyn pulled his side clear with his third penalty and Bryan Habana grabbed a spectacular solo try – extending his national try-scoring record to 48 – to settle home nerves.
That ended the spirited Italian fightback and Engelbrecht should have had another score before Jean De Villiers scored his team’s fourth try, with Bjorn Basson then rounding off the scoring with an interception breakaway.
While South Africa, Scotland’s next opponents, in Nelspruit on Saturday, were impressively ruthless, Italy, now Scotland’s likely opponents in the final week, will also take heart from the second and third quarters where they dominated the game with more than 90 per cent of the possession.