England's second-half comeback fell agonisingly short as South Africa held on to win 16-15 at Twickenham.
The Springboks had taken a fortunate 16-6 lead with a try from Willem Albert before England mounted a passionate response.
Owen Farrell added two penalties to the two struck in the first half by Toby Flood and with just over a minute remaining, England won another penalty and captain Chris Robshaw instructed Farrell to go for goal. He converted it but England could not gather the restart and the game was lost.
England were the better team, particularly in the second half when Farrell came on, but their undoing was a slice of bad luck just after the interval. When Ben Youngs' hacked clearance rebounded off JP Pietersen, the ball fell to Alberts who scored rugby's equivalent of an open goal.
Flood missed two first-half penalties and again the spotlight will fall on a decision made by captain Chris Robshaw when England were awarded a kickable penalty with just over a minute remaining.
Last week, England were criticised for not taking their points. Here, Robshaw changed his mind having initially told Farrell to kick for touch. Farrell slotted the penalty, but England could not gather the restart and South Africa held on to extend their unbeaten run in this fixture to 11 matches, dating back to 2006.
Flood and Patrick Lambie exchanged penalties early on to leave the game locked at 6-6 before Ben Morgan crashed holes in the Springbok defensive line but England could not capitalise and Lambie edged the Springboks ahead for the first time in the match.
Just after the restart, South Africa extended their 9-6 half-time lead in a bizarre circumstances. When Juande Kruger lost control as he drove for the line, Ben Youngs tried to hack the ball clear but it crashed into Pietersen. The ball rebounded towards Morgan, who could not gather it on his own line and Springboks flanker Alberts pounced to score a try that was converted by Lambie.
England kept piling on the pressure, helped by some poor South African kicking. Mako Vunipola crashed into the Springbok 22 and England won another penalty when Francois Louw came in off his feet.
Farrell converted it and then booted England back into South African territory but again the Twickenham crowd were left frustrated as Chris Ashton knocked the ball forward. England came again and, with a minute remaining, earned the kickable penalty which Robshaw, eventually, instructed Farrell to kick for goal.