Cape Town - The Proteas will need their dependable lower order to rescue them one final time this summer on the final day of their tour to New Zealand on Wednesday after their top order was badly exposed on the penultimate day of the third Test in Hamilton on Tuesday.
On a day dominated by the hosts, South Africa reached stumps on a woeful 80/5 in reply to the Black Caps’ first-innings 489 - still trailing by 95.
This happened despite no obvious alarms in the pitch, with the tourists let down by some poor shot selection and a horrendous run-out.
All the jitters occurred in an extended final session, which began with Dean Elgar edging Colin de Grandhomme to BJ Watling for five.
Theunis de Bruyn completed a forgettable debut when he was run out for 12 - the young batsman following his duck in the first innings by being involved in a mix-up with Hashim Amla that saw both batsmen collide, gifting the home side a second wicket.
Amla (19) then saw his attempted cut off Patel deflect to slip, before JP Duminy (13) missed a straight one from the same spinner and was bowled.
Temba Bavuma (1) capped a poor day for the South Africans when he nicked Matt Henry to Watling to make it 59/5.
That left Faf du Plessis, a master of defence, and Quinton de Kock, both on 15, together at the close and with plenty to do to ensure the Proteas hold on to their 1-0 series lead in what is their final match of the 2016/17 campaign.
Earlier, the New Zealanders continued their dominance with the bat from day three with captain Kane Williamson going on to score 176 (285 balls, 16 fours, 3 sixes), which was the highest individual score by a player from his country against South Africa on home soil.
Mitchell Santner (41) shared in an 88-run stand with his skipper, while De Grandhomme struck a maiden Test half-century when he scored a career-best 57 (70 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes) against a visibly tiring visiting side.
Despite looking weary, the bowlers maintained their discipline on a fairly placid pitch with Morne Morkel the pick of the bowlers with 4/100. Kagiso Rabada picked up 4/122, before the hosts made the most of their 175-run lead during the latter part of a full day at Seddon Park.