Both the Boks and France scored two tries in the clash, but France’s six penalty goals and one conversion to four penalty goals and two conversions by the visitors saw the hosts walk away with the narrow four-point win.

Their next assignment is against a rejuvenated Italian side, who caused a huge upset by beating Australia for the first time in their history in Florence on Saturday.

Given the immense effort the Boks put in until the end, Mbonambi and Willemse had reason to feel bitterly disappointed, but they both gave the team credit for their fighting spirit after losing Pieter-Steph du Toit to a red card in the 12th minute and Deon Fourie to a yellow card in the 70th minute.

“We worked hard for the result after last week, and the guys really played hard and left their hearts out there, and in the end it came down to a four-point game,” said Mbonambi, who started at hooker in Marseille.

“We are really hurt by this result and we will work hard for next week. We’ve had two close games in a row, but we’ll go back to the drawing board on Monday and pull together. We need to make sure we pull the next one through and take it home with us.”

Willemse (flyhalf) was equally heart-broken and said: “It was a tough result, the boys really gave it everything and stuck in the fight despite being a man down. We are really disappointed with the result, but I’m proud of the effort the guys put in.

Mbonambi in conversation with Wayne Barnes, who refereed his 101st Test on Saturday, making him the most experienced Test referee ever.

Mbonambi in conversation with Wayne Barnes, who refereed his 101st Test on Saturday, making him the most experienced Test referee ever.

“We’ll prepare as well as we can for next week and take it from there. As a team, two results do not define us, we know we were really close in both matches.”

Willemse, who was one of three players used to kick at goal for the Boks in match, also praised the team’s accurate kicking after being criticised heavily for that facet of their play in the last two weeks.

“As kickers we are going through our processes, and I am proud of all the guys who put up their hand tonight, Cheslin (Kolbe), Faf (de Klerk), and I was also in the mix there in the end,” he said.

“It’s going to be like that during the World Cup, so it’s important for us to take the key learnings from that so that we can build momentum.”

Both players said experiencing the atmosphere, conditions and crowd in France before next year’s Rugby World Cup in France was invaluable.

“It was great for us to experience the pitch, facilities and the crowd especially since we are playing two matches here in the World Cup, so it was good for our preparation,” said Willemse. “The result may not have gone our way but there are a lot of positives we can take from this match.”

Mbonambi added: “We really learned a lot coming here before the World Cup, staying at the place we will be based and travelling to field which is about an hour away, so at least we are used to that now.”

The Boks made the journey from France to Genoa on Sunday for their third tour match against Italy, while assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and talented utility back Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu travelled to Bristol to join the SA ‘A’ team for their clash on Thursday at Ashton gate.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu was called up as injury cover for Aphelele Fassi who has been ruled out for six to eight weeks with an ankle injury.