South Africa maintained their run towards the World Cup quarter-finals with a less than satisfactory 30-25 win over Tonga in Lens on Saturday.
A win it was, and it was convincing enough in the end, with even a bonus point accrued, but Jake White will doubtless be concerned at just how poorly his reserves played for the first 55 minutes, and even more concerned at the lapses in concentration that took Tonga within a whisker of a huge upset in the final ten minutes.
Only the injection of first-teamers Frans Steyn, Victor Matfield, Juan Smith and Bryan Habana got the Boks going, with Tonga leading 10-7 until that point. Then the Boks scored three tries - two of them flowing 50m moves - in six minutes in a purple patch around the hour mark.
But two late Tonga tries brought the score back to 27-22 with eight minutes to go, setting up a tense finish.
Pool A's top-of-the-table contest started in a typically robust fashion with Tonga striking first, as Bobby Skinstad was caught offside from JP Pietersen's fumble on nine minutes.
Pierre Hola duly slotted the opening three points as South Africa rapidly realised that the Sea Islanders weren't set on relying on next week's fixture against England for quarter-final qualification.
However, the Springboks were handed an immediate opportunity to respond when referee Wayne Barnes spotted a Tongan offside, but Andre Pretorius hooked the simple penalty wide of the posts.
Then came a fine territorial kick from full-back Ruan Pienaar - causing all kinds of problems for his opposite number Vungakoto Lilo - that resulted in a penalty. But for the second time in quick succession, Pretorius was off target.
However, the Lens crowd were starting to witness sustained Springbok pressure, and from a quick-tap penalty Pienaar raced down the left wing to dive over on 19 minutes, converted well by Pretorius.
Then a spark of Tongan brilliance on 25 minutes saw Hola send captain Nili Latu motoring through a large gap in the South African defence. But the recycled ball and pass was adjudged forward by Barnes as prop Tonga'uiha strolled over with a beaming smile, which was swiftly removed.
And on the stroke of half-time it was Hola who missed the opportunity to reduce the arrears to just one point, with the game poised beautifully at 7-3.
Tonga flew out of the blocks in the second period as errors continued to cloud South Africa's game.
Again Latu was involved as they set up camp inside their opponents 22, and the Islanders subsequently crossed the whitewash thanks to a forward-dominated move, finished by Kisi Pulu.
That prompted coach Jake White to send on five of his seven VIP's, far sooner than expected, with the score at 7-10.
And it took them just five minutes to level the scores as Tonga were caught offside, with the kicking responsibilities now handed to Frans Steyn.
Then patience from the Springboks, coupled with weary Tongan legs, saw substitute Juan Smith finish off an unrelenting surge, converted by the record-breaking cap Percy Montgomery.
But as the game entered its final quarter, tempers began to flare, with Steyn and Joseph Vaka with both sent to the sin-bin. That all took place off the ball as Skinstad showed fine strength to dive over in the corner.
The floodgates looked to be opening as Pietersen sparked a length of the field score for Pienaar to grab his second.
And more tries followed. However, they were added to theTongan tally with the Springboks stunned.
Immediately following wing Bryan Habana's yellow card for a high tackle, a Hola cross-field kick found Sukanaivalu Hufanga to score.
Their second quickly followed, reducing the Boks' lead to just five, as smart footballing skills saw Viliami Vaki dive over after a length of the field move, the try converted by Hola.
The two sides then traded penalties as the clock ran down after a pulsating encounter with the Spingboks desperately managing to cling to the Pool summit.
Man of the match: Tonga's start performer so far in the World Cup! Nili Latu was once again immense in every aspect of play. His work in the tight exchanges, coupled with excellent link play with his backs always gave Hola an option.
Moment of the match: Tonga's two quick-fire tries in the second period! Hufanga and Vaki were the men who set up the grandstand finish.
Villain of the match: Tough to class any of these gladiators as 'villains'. A match played at a physical and frantic pace, which was largely competed in good spirits. The sin-binnings of Frans Steyn and Joseph Vaka were possibly the only negatives.
For South Africa:
Tries: Pienaar 2, Smith, Skinstad
Cons: Pretorius, Montgomery
Pens: Steyn, Montgomery
Tries: Pulu, Hufanga, Vaki
Cons: Hola 2
Pens: Hola 2
Yellow cards: Steyn (South Africa), Vaka (Tonga - both 62, both fighting), Haban (69, South Africa, high tackle)
South Africa: 15 Ruan Pienaar, 14 Ashwin Willemse, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Wayne Julies, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 André Pretorius, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Bob Skinstad (c), 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Wikus van Heerden, 5 Albert van den Berg, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gürthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 BJ Botha, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Juan Smith, 20 Bryan Habana, 21 Frans Steyn, 22 Percy Montgomery.
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Tevita Tu'ifua, 13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 12 Epeli Taione, 11 Joseph Vaka, 10 Pierre Hola, 9 Sione Tu'ipulotu, 8 Finau Maka, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Viliami Vaki, 5 'Emosi Kauhenga, 4 Paino Hehea, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Taufa'ao Filise, 18 Inoke Afeaki, 19 Lotu Filipine, 20 Soane Havea, 21 Isileli Tupou, 22 Aisea Havili.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Touch judges: Paul Marks, Federico Cuesta
Television match official: Malcolm Changleng
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie