South Africa grasped the initiative by dismissing both England opening batsmen between lunch and tea on the first day of the third Test at St George’s Park on Thursday.
England were 117 for two at tea after captain Joe Root won the toss and decided to bat on a placid pitch on a hot, sunny day.
Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley gave England a solid start, reaching lunch at 61 for no wicket.
But South Africa came back strongly, dismissing both opening batsmen in similar circumstances and keeping a tight rein on the scoring rate after lunch.
Kagiso Rabada had Sibley caught at backward square leg for 36 and Anrich Nortje had Crawley caught in the same position for 44.
Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj conceded only 22 runs in 19 unbroken overs from the northern end of the ground, enabling South African captain Faf du Plessis to rotate his four fast bowlers from the southern end.
With the four-match series tied at 1-1, batting first appeared to be a considerable advantage on a pitch which had a fair covering of grass but which offered no help to the bowlers.
It was the sixth successive Test toss lost by Du Plessis.
South Africa picked new cap Dane Paterson as a specialist fast bowler in place of all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius.
"He’s a skiddy bowler who hits the top of the stumps," said Du Plessis, who surprisingly decided that Paterson would share the new ball with Philander, with the quicker Rabada and Nortje having to wait for their turn.
England brought back fast bowler Mark Wood in place of the injured James Anderson. Wood has not played since the World Cup final in July because of a knee injury but has been working on his fitness since the beginning of the tour.
Wood has not played in a red-ball match since a Test series in the West Indies last February.