(CNN)Italy beat South Africa 20-18 in front of a raucous home crowd in Florence to register a first ever win against one of the three Southern Hemisphere giants.
Never before had Italy tasted victory against the Spingboks, New Zealand or Australia but capitalized on a succession of South African errors to grind out a narrow win.
Ranked 13th in the world — compared to South Africa in fourth — Italy has been revitalized under new Irish coach Conor O’Shea.
“For us, this is just a start but it’s a very good one,” the 46-year-old former Harlequins coach said.
Captain Sergio Parisse said he was “extremely proud” of his team, before calling the win the most important in the country’s history.
An early try from Bryan Habana looked to have set the tone for a convincing win, but an error from the restart allowed Italy’s South African-born Andries Van Schalkwyk to hit back immediately with a try of his own.
Despite enduring a 68-10 thrashing at the hands of New Zealand last week, Italy’s players never let their heads drop, even when Damian de Allende got South Africa’s second try.
Giovanbattista Venditti ran in for the hosts to level the scores, before a Carlo Canna penalty put Italy narrowly ahead.
The margin of victory could have been greater but the referee disallowed a late Italian try, much to the disappointment of the 22,000-strong partisan crowd.
“We are at an all-time low,” said Jean de Villiers, who captained South Africa in its famous shock defeat to Japan at the 2015 World Cup.
“A lot needs to change for us to go forward. Everyone needs to take responsibility for this, and if they do that, then we have a chance to get it back on track again.”
All Blacks’ revenge
Meanwhile, world champion New Zealand gained revenge for last week’s shock defeat to Ireland with a 21-9 win.
Malakai Fekitoa was the hero, crossing to score two tries in a match — as in Chicago a week ago — that was littered with ill-discipline.
The All Blacks were shown two yellow cards, while the injury count reached four inside the first half hour.
“I’m really proud of the effort the boys put in,” said Ireland Joe Schmidt said. “The hub at 10 and 12 (Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw) run your game, and I just felt we lost our shape a bit when they went off.
“At the same time, we put them under immense pressure. But it’s frustrating when you pour so much into a game and don’t get the result. At 14-9, I thought we were in with a chance.”
Elsewhere, an understrength England side ran in nine tries against Fiji in a 58-15 mauling at Twickenham.
Wales, meanwhile, edged past a spirited Japan side 33-30 in Cardiff, requiring a last-minute Sam Davies drop goal to secure victory.