Peter Wheeler was not wearing a hat last night which will have come as a relief to Austin Healey who had promised that he would eat the Leicester chief executive's headgear if his former club won this game. Healey's gloomy prediction that Leicester would be "tonked" was not just another controversial comment from the "Liverpool Lip" but was based on the sensible premise that a depleted Tigers would stand little chance against the World Cup holders, albeit the Springboks' midweek dirt-trackers.
But Healey had not reckoned with a stunning performance brustling with pride and passion from Leicester which unsettled a poorly-organised Springboks and provided a fitting celebration for the official opening of the new £14 million Caterpillar Stand.
Though Leicester were denuded by international calls and injuries they were still able to name Lote Tuqiri, this week's high-profile signing, as a replacement. By the time the former Australia winger made his debut in the second half Leicester were well on their way to a famous victory.
Five penalties from scrum-half Ben Youngs, a makeshift kicker in place of the rested Jeremy Staunton, sealed it but the foundations were really laid by a rampant front row.
South Africa were given such a torrid time by Martin Castrogiovanni and Mefin Davies that they withdrew Gurthro Steenkamp, capped 22 times, at half-time. Heinke van der Merwe fared little better as Steenkamp's replacement.
Thankfully for South Africa, reinforcements are on their way as the majority of the side that is likely to face France in Toulouse in the first of three autumn internationals next Friday arrives in Europe next week.
But this was still a sobering defeat for the Tri-Nations champions who will face a similar banana skin against Saracens at Wembley on 17 November.
When winger Jongi Nokwe latched onto Earl Rose's clever kick through and scored the opening try after eight minutes it looked like being a long evening for Leicester.
But 18-year-old Manu Tuilagi, the youngest of five rugby-playing brothers, refused to be intimidated as he regularly clattered into the Springboks midfield defence and sucked in tacklers.
Youngs got Leicester moving when he slotted a penalty from close to the posts to make up for an earlier miss and then converted a superb try from Lucas Amorosino.
The game appeared to have drifted into stalemate with some aimless aerial kicking from both sides but Johne Murphy found some space to attack from deep and Tuilagi had the strength to capitalise. Amorosino linked well with the young centre and jinked infield to score a glorious try under the posts which clearly rattled South Africa.
Youngs shaded the kicking contest with Ruan Pienaar, the crucial moment coming when South Africa's fly-half struck an upright with a 75th-minute penalty attempt that bounced out to George Chuter.
Leicester: Try Amorosino Conversion Youngs Pens: Youngs 5 South Africa: Try Nokwe Pens: Pienaar 4
Leicester: S Hamilton; L Amorosino (L Tuqiri 56), A Forsyth, M Tuilagi, J Murphy; A Mauger (capt), B Youngs; B Stankovich, M Davies (G Chuter 52), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole 66), C Green, D Hemingway, G Parling, B Pienaar (T Armes 61), B Deacon (C Hammond 13).
South Africa: E Rose (R Viljoen 70); O Ndugane, J de Jongh, W Olivier (M Bosman 64), J Nokwe; R Pienaar, H Adams (F Hougaard 55); G Steenkamp (H van der Merwe 40), C Ralepelle (capt) (B Maku 20), J du Plessis, D Roussow (A Hargreaves 60), A Bekker, D Potgieter, D Raubenheimer (J Deysel 40), A Johnson.
Referee: S Dickinson (Australia)