With an enthralling match locked at 21-21 and four seconds left on the clock, Fiji went short with their kick-off to the middle of the field.
Justin Geduld was lifted high by Tim Agaba and was challenged by Jasa Veremalua in the air. But while Veremalua missed his man, it was enough to put off Geduld, who knocked the ball forward and into the hands of Amenoni Nasisila, who handed off the hapless Geduld and raced into the 22, where he fed Alivereti Veitokani to score in the corner.
And just like that, the Blitzboks went down 26-21.
It was a devastating manner in which to lose as the South Africans appeared to have the edge throughout, with Fiji coming back to score in response.
The South Africans made an impressive start, with speedster Seabelo Senatla skinning the Fijian defence to set up Geduld in the left corner, and the left-footer landed the touchline conversion as well.
The Blitzboks had also defended with great tenacity up to that point, but captain Kyle Brown and Tim Agaba both got hurt in trying to tackle Fijian playmaker Kitione Taliga and stayed down, which opened up the space for the opposition.
New Zealand referee Richard Kelly somehow ignored the forward pass from Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau to Masivesi Dakuwaqa, who showed some fancy footwork to get past Cecil Afrika.
But Afrika immediately made up for his defensive mistake when he chased after a loose ball from a Fijian tap back off the kickoff, and Kwagga Smith found Chris Dry, who ran about 30 metres and held off Kolinisau to crash over.
The end-to-end nature of the semi-final continued, though, as with just seconds left before halftime, Vatemo Ravouvou broke the line and released Taliga on the outside, who produced a brilliant offload in the tackle to put Veremalua over.
Both teams had opportunities to score after halftime, with Senatla going close and Taliga sparking a Fijian move that broke down on the South African 22.
But Senatla soon showed his class by scoring the try of the game. Receiving the ball three metres inside his own half, the man from Welkom sized up the Fijians, did a hop and a skip of sorts to stop the defence, and put the hammer down to explode away between two defenders and dot down near the posts.
The Blitzboks were 21-14 up with just over three minutes to go, and it was almost inevitable that the South Sea islanders were going to level up again.
But before that, Kwagga Smith stepped through himself, with Ryan Kankowski timing his offload to perfection for Stephan Dippenaar, whose initial stumble broke his momentum and he was tackled out in the corner.
That miss proved crucial in the end as Nasisila chipped over the SA defensive line in the 22, and Branco du Preez was unable to smother the ball as he accidently kicked it over the line, and Nasisila scored the equaliser.
Then it was the Blitzboks’ heartbreak moment off the final kickoff, which sent Fiji into a final against Kenya, who beat Argentina 15-12 with an outstanding Collins Injera penalty from over 40 metres out, on the angle, in the last kick of the game.
South Africa will face Argentina in Sunday’s third-place playoff at 1.01pm, while Fiji and Kenya meet in the final at 1.38pm.
South Africa – Tries: Justin Geduld, Chris Dry, Seabelo Senatla. Conversions: Geduld (3).
Fiji – Tries: Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Jasa Veremalua, Amenoni Nasisila, Alivereti Veitokani. Conversions: Osea Kolinisau (3
Original source: Last-gasp heartbreak for Blitzboks