Coach Darren Lehmann acknowledges Australia are in the middle of a batting crisis, after crashing to 18 for 5 then being skittled for 85 on a chaotic first day of the second test against South Africa in Hobart.

South Africa were 171-5 in response at stumps on Saturday, already well placed to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series despite Mitchell Starc starting the final session with three wickets in the space of 10 deliveries.

Australia relived their Trent Bridge nightmare, falling victim to an inspired Vernon Philander to produce the nation's lowest test total at home since 1984.

Australia unravelled spectacularly after being sent in under overcast skies on a green-tinged Bellerive pitch, as was the case in Nottingham last year when they were bowled out for 60 in the Ashes decider.

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An unbeaten captain's knock of 48 from Steve Smith represented more than half of Australia's total.

"When you get bowled out for 85 it probably is [a crisis], isn't it? For us, it's a case of getting better. We lost 86-10 in the last test," Lehmann said. "When you're playing badly, your're going to cop it ... there's a lot of criticism out there, that's warranted.

"It was a bit of a reminder of Trent Bridge the way it was going around. Once we have a collapse, we seem to have a big one. Someone needs to stop that rot and have a partnership somewhere."

That's exactly what Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock did for the Proteas, sharing an unbeaten 39-run stand after Starc and Josh Hazlewood reduced the visitors to 132-5.

The hosts have a mountain of work to do on day two, when heavy rain is predicted, as they seek to snap a four-test losing streak and ease the pressure on Lehmann.

"Four Tests ago we were No 1 but now we're way away from that," Lehmann said. "It's a great challenge ahead for myself and the coaching group to pull the younger guys through, teach them the game better and improve their techniques."

Philander was on a hat-trick during a near-unplayable opening spell, which featured the scalps of David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Adam Voges. It only ended when he trudged off the field with a shoulder injury after a mid-pitch collision with Smith.

Philander returned to the attack after lunch, dismissing Joe Mennie and Nathan Lyon to finish with figures of 5-21 from 10.1 overs.

Debutant Callum Ferguson, added to Australia's XI at the expense of Mitch Marsh in an effort to shore up their misfiring middle order, was run out for three by substitute fielder Dane Vilas.

"It was a magnificent all-round performance. I don't think there were a lot of soft dismissals," Philander said.

It was Australia's lowest total in 32 years in a home test and would have been so much worse if not for Smith.

Smith and Mennie were the only Australians to reach double figures. Australia's top seven batsmen, discounting the top-scorer, contributed just 12 runs.

Smith also managed to temporarily take Philander out of the attack in the 13th over, but with a bump - not his bat.

Philander, who boasted figures of 3-2, turned and appealed animatedly after a delivery struck Smith's pads. The skipper accidentally clashed with the right- armer while taking off for a quick single.

Below is a timeline of the three hours it took to for Australia to be dismissed (all times in NZT).

12.30PM: Play starts after South Africa win the toss and send Australia to bat.

12.34PM: Opener David Warner (one) caught behind chasing a wide ball. Australia 1-2.

12.40PM: For the first time in Test history Australia loses both its openers for just one run each as Joe Burns is trapped lbw. Australia 2-2.

12.59PM: Rain starts to fall at Bellerive Oval, stopping play.

1.12PM: Play resumes.

1.20PM: After 32 minutes at the crease Usman Khawaja (four) edges the ball to first slip. Australia 3-8.

1.22PM: Incoming batsman Adam Voges faces one ball which he clips to the keeper. Australia 4-8.

1.42PM: Boasting a handy three wickets, South African paceman Vernon Philander leaves the ground after a mid-pitch tangle with Steve Smith as he goes for a run.

1.45PM: Test debutant Callum Ferguson (two) is run out. Australia 5-17.

2.15PM: Peter Nevill (three) is gievn out lbw after the Proteas refer to the DRS. Australia 6-31.

2.30PM: A dramatic first session closes with Australia 6-43 at lunch. Smith is unbeaten on 20 and Joe Mennie is 10 not out.

3.10PM: Play resumes with Philander back in South Africa's bowling attack after being given a fitness all clear.

3.15PM: Australia scrapes together 50 runs from 156 deliveries in 113 minutes.

3.25PM: Mennie is bowled for 10, with his off stump sent flying by a Philander delivery. Australia 7-59.

3.32PM: Replacement batsman Mitchell Starc contributes four runs in six minutes before playing a high shot toward gully which is snatched by a flying JP Duminy. Australia 8-66.

3.41PM: Josh Hazlewood finds the boundary twice before being caught at first slip. Australia 9-85.

3.49PM: Australia's first innings comes to a close after 147 minutes with the dismissal of Nathan Lyon (two), caught behind. Smith remains 48 not out and top scores for the Aussies. Philander finishes with five for 21.

- AAP