Italy had the opportunity to become the first team to clinch a quarter-final spot, but South Africa were just too good in Shizuoka.
At the ground where Japan had shocked Ireland, there was to be no second upset. Cheslin Kolbe crossed after six minutes and the Springboks able to power away to a 49-3 victory.
Italy’s cause was not helped by a multitude of prop issues, Simone Ferrari and Marco Riccioni both forced off through injury inside 20 minutes, while Andrea Lovotti saw red for a tip tackle shortly after half-time.
That will leave Conor O’Shea with a conundrum to solve ahead of the final pool game against New Zealand.
Mathematically the Azzurri are still in contention for the quarter-finals, although it would now require a bonus-point win over the defending champions.
More pressing is responding to this game where Italy were overwhelmed at times by the power of the Springboks.
They will not be the last team to come unstuck against the massive South African pack, but this was a chastening experience at times.
Despite a 17-3 half-time deficit, the opening 40 minutes were tight, Kolbe showing quick feet to nip over on the right early, while Bongi Mbonambi grabbed a second from a rolling maul.
Italy had chances of their own, despite losing their two tightheads early to force uncontested scrums. Both possession and territory were evenly matched at the interval.
Unfortunately a few too many passes did not quite go to hand, despite Jake Polledri, in particular, making plenty of ground with ball in hand.
The Gloucester flanker finished with seven defenders beaten, and has now beaten 27 over the course of the World Cup – the most ever by a forward in a single edition of the competition.
Even against a very physical South African set of forwards, he was able to bump off defenders, and will certainly be a foundational piece of this Italian pack in the future.
Tommaso Allan also showed some deft touches, even though he spent the majority of the game on the back foot.
And then you have Michele Campagnaro, playing in the slightly less familiar position of winger but the pick of the Italy backs.
Injuries have held him back over the last couple of seasons, but he now has the right blend of experience and talent to re-establish himself as a go-to man in Italy’s backline.
Against a team like South Africa, however, indiscipline will be punished, and when Lovotti was given his marching orders for a tip tackle on Duane Vermeulen, he took with him any hopes of a comeback.
Instead, South Africa were able to run in a further five tries as Italy admirably kept trying to play an expansive game rather than damage limitations and shut up shop.
That allowed Kolbe to get a second, the diminutive winger deservedly named player of the match for his efforts.
Italy, meanwhile, will have to count the cost of this defeat. O’Shea was understandably devastated, particularly at the way Italy were not able to show what they could do.
He said: “I’m destroyed for everybody because we’ve worked so hard.
“There was a power in the first half, that we knew would come from South Africa. It was 17-3. We had to hang in and do something.
“We get to the start of the second half, we’re close to the line, and the red card was just crass stupidity, crass stupidity, and you’re down to 14 men.
“The boys fought valiantly but when you’re down numbers against a great side, it’s just impossible. They fought to the end, they never stopped trying but you can’t play with 14 men. It was difficult. It’s difficult to take that.
“We’ll see what the best 23 is that can get fit and on the pitch for next week but we’re hurting massively because we came here to really show our best and we didn’t get that opportunity in the second half, at 17-3.
“You lose that man and the game is done.”
The game may be done, but Italy still have a chance to redeem themselves against New Zealand. They have an eight-day rest before taking on the All Blacks, and if chances of reaching the quarter-final are remote, it is a great opportunity to start building for the future.