In a tight Test, in which momentum between the sides ebbed and flowed, both sides scored two tries apiece but Mbonambi proved to be the match-winner when he dotted down off the back of a line-out drive deep inside France’s 22.
The home side will be wondering how they lost this game as they dominated for large periods and held a 23-9 lead early in the second-half. But South Africa fought back bravely to clinch the win.
France showed their intentions from the outset by running the ball from all areas of the field and in the fifth minute, Maxime Medard set off on a mazy run which wreaked havoc in the Springbok defence. He did well to get a pass out to Teddy Thomas whose progress was halted inside South Africa’s 22. The ball was recycled quickly before Camille Lopez launched a cross-field kick which just eluded Damian Penaud.
Shortly afterwards, Baptiste Serin opened the scoring when he landed a penalty after Franco Mostert and Steven Kitshoff were blown up for offside play on defence.
Five minutes later, Serin doubled his team’s lead via another penalty after the Boks strayed offside on defence again. Shortly after the restart, it was France’s turn to be penalised and Handré Pollard made no mistake off the kicking tee to reduce the deficit to three points.
With points on the board the Springboks’ confidence grew and in the 22nd minute, Pollard drew his side level when he slotted his second penalty after Jefferson Poirot was blown up for illegal scrummaging.
On the hour-mark, Pollard gave the Boks the lead for the first time when he added another three-pointer off the tee after Malcolm Marx did well to win a breakdown penalty.
That lead did not last long, however, as five minutes later Lopez restored parity when he landed a drop goal from the edge of his 22. And just before half-time, France regained the lead when Guilhem Guirado caught the Boks by surprise when he burst through two tackles from a line-out drive before powering his way over the try-line from close quarters.
Serin added the extras which meant the home side held a 16-9 lead as the teams changed sides at the interval.
France came out firing in the second-half and two minutes after the restart, Sbu Nkosi failed to deal with a teasing high kick from Lopez, close to his try-line. His error proved costly as Mathieu Bastareaud gathered the loose ball before crossing for Les Bleus’ second try from close range.
Serin succeeded with the conversion attempt, which meant France were now holding a comfortable 23-9 lead, but from the restart Sebastien Vahaamahina spilled the ball deep inside his half, after great pressure from Pieter-Steph du Toit. Nkosi was quickest to react and after gathering the ball he crossed for the Boks’ first try.
Pollard added the conversion and the Boks had the upper hand during the next 15 minutes.
Two further penalties from Pollard meant France held a slender 23-22 lead by the hour-mark.
Shortly afterwards, Gael Fickou lined up a shot at goal from about 50 metres out but although his effort had the distance, it was wide of the uprights.
Despite that miss, Les Bleus got another chance to extend their lead, in the 67th minute, when Faf de Klerk was penalised for a late hit on Lopez. Serin held his nerve to slot his third penalty.
That meant the Springboks had to score a try to regain the lead and they thought they had done that when Cheslin Kolbe set off on a blistering run down the right-hand touchline. He did well to step past the cover defence before crossing the whitewash but his effort was disallowed after a brilliant tackle from Arthur Iturria.
The final 10 minutes was a frantic affair as the Boks gave their all in a bid to secure the win and just before full-time they thought they had done it when Aphiwe Dyantyi crossed the whitewash, However, his effort was disallowed when the television match official ruled that the final pass from Willie le Roux was forward.
However, the Boks would have another opportunity as Les Bleus had infringed in the build-up to that effort and shortly afterwards Mbonambi crossed for his try which sealed his side’s victory.
Tries: Guirado, Bastareaud
Cons: Serin 2
Pens: Serin 3
Drop goal: Lopez
For South Africa:
Tries: Nkosi, Mbonambi
Cons: Pollard 2
Pens: Pollard 5
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Gael Fickou
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)