New Zealand's pace bowling trio of Neil Wagner, Matt Henry and Colin de Grandhomme exceeded expectations on a truncated opening day to the third test against South Africa in Hamilton.

The visitors were 123 for four when rain seized control midway through the middle session. Play was called off at 5.48pm despite an extensive drying process. The top four had returned to the pavilion, while Faf du Plessis benefited from the Black Caps muddling a decision review.

The next session - whenever that is, given the grim forecast - will be a crucial. In Wellington South Africa still reeled back control despite being 94 for six in their first innings.

Henry was the pick of the bowlers in his first test since playing Pakistan at the same ground in November. He finished with two for 25 from 10 overs in the absence of injured spearheads Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

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De Grandhomme backed him up with niggling line and length and Wagner delivered customary aggression.

Initial damage brought consolidation from South Africa. Captain du Plessis opted to bat, meaning the visitors had won the toss in eight consecutive internationals (five ODIs and three tests) on tour.

The decision surprised, given the potential impact of pace bowlers Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vern Philander when the wicket was at its greenest.

The session was played in a sepia hue with the tourists finishing on 71 for three as rain brought a premature lunch at 1.24pm. The start was delayed half an hour until 11.30 as a result.

Matters were not rosy to begin either. South Africa struggled at five for two with debutant Theunis de Bruyn and Dean Elgar dismissed within 3.1 overs. The highest opening partnership for any side this series has been 18 between Elgar and Stephen Cook in the second innings of the second test.

De Bruyn continued the opening struggles which beset Cook, the man he replaced. He edged Henry to second slip Tom Latham from his third ball. The catch presumably restored Latham's confidence, having dropped a gift earlier in the series. Jeet Raval moved across from his left, but Latham's instinct was sure. He wore a dental-ad smile to boot.

Five balls later, Elgar's judgement betrayed him shouldering arms to de Grandhomme bowling around the wicket. The ball lashed back to clip the top of off stump.

Hashim Amla proved the antidote to the early batting woes. He hit nine boundaries as part of 50 from 93 balls.

The highlight was punching Wagner off the back foot through the covers to move to 32. He saw the ball angling across and the bounce was limited so he moved his back foot, got into full alignment and pushed his weight through the ball.

The No.3 eventually suffered a lapse of concentration, beaten for a lack of pace by de Grandhomme. He played through a delivery that cannoned into middle stump as he looked to work it into the legside.

Amla formed a 59-run third-wicket partnership with Jean-Paul Duminy (20). Duminy eventually hooked Henry to Jeetan Patel at long leg. It looked a relatively controlled shot to the naked eye, but he had rolled the wrists too early and ballooned a top edge.

If New Zealand had reviewed a Wagner lbw shout at 28 for two when Duminy was on seven, they would have dismissed him earlier.

Duminy also survived a review for lbw on 18 with the score at 47 for two; Henry's delivery pitched outside leg from over-the-wicket to the left-hander.

The worst DRS gaffe was reserved for Du Plessis middling a ball onto his pad at 81 for three in the 29th over. Captain Kane Williamson received some appalling advice and almost looked sheepish teeing it up for the third umpire. He would have been better off opening it up to the crowd gladiatorial-style with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

The first casualty of New Zealand's poor reviewing came 2.1 overs later with the South African captain on 16. Du Plessis nibbled at a Wagner delivery. Wicketkeeper B-J Watling took the catch and the nick looked promising on Hotspot. The problem was that it had been given "not out" with no chance for respite.

Next over du Plessis rubbed in the New Zealand misjudgement by standing tall and cracking Wagner off the back foot through cover point. Judging by the echo he hit it about as much as the earlier lbw review.