Replacement hooker Mbongeni Mbonami crashed over in the 85th minute after the Springboks had had a try disallowed for a forward pass, but got a reprieve because referee Nigel Owens had been playing a penalty advantage in Paris on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).
France led 16-9 at halftime after three penalties by Baptiste Serin, a dropped goal to Camille Lopez and a try to skipper Guilhem Guirado, who evaded the tackle of his South African hooker counterpart Malcolm Marx.
The home side got a great break when centre Mathieu Bastareaud scored in the 41st minute.
But the Springboks forced their way back into contention with a try to Sibusiso Nkosi and three Handre Pollard penalties.
Serin’s boot meant France still had a four-point lead going into the final minute, but their ill-discipline proved costly as they conceded penalties and found themselves facing a lineout 5m from their line.
Eventually, the pressure told.
MORE TO COME