Lower order batting depth has played a pivotal role in differentiating New Zealand and South Africa in their three-test series, as the hosts resume tomorrow on 67 without loss in response to the visitors' 314 in the final match.

In the first innings at Dunedin the lower orders produced similar returns, but the last two matches have given the Proteas an edge. When the Black Caps got into positions of promise in Wellington, and now Hamilton, their opponents eked out crucial - and demoralising - runs.

The South African lower order possesses a healthy combination of mental tenacity and robust technique.

Kagiso Rabada made his highest test score of 34 from 31 balls on the second day. He offered durability in a 46-run ninth-wicket stand as No.7 Quinton de Kock (90) nursed the tail.

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The Proteas put on 124 runs for their last four wickets with Vern Philander (11) and Keshav Maharaj (9) enduring 56 balls between them.

At the Basin Reserve, Philander and Morne Morkel put on 57 for the final wicket to take them to 359 in the first innings after they had struggled at 94 for six. It swung the game, given New Zealand lost their last four second innings wickets for 16 runs in 35 balls on what was considered a sound batting pitch.

New Zealand bowling coach Shane Jurgensen conceded South Africa had exhibited a more robust batting tail.

"They've got solid techniques, they got a few away today and we probably didn't execute as well as we wanted.

"They've had some luck, but they can certainly bat. They've won the battle of the lower orders so far, but ours has an opportunity to make that up with three days to go."

South African batting coach Neil McKenzie said his lower order had returned their set targets.

"We place a high emphasis on your wicket, so you're not a gift, and all the guys have responded well.

"They've been working hard against the short ball and spin. The wickets are a touch slower here so the short ball isn't as threatening as it might be elsewhere. That offers them more confidence."

De Kock was also credited as a batting chaperone.

"[Australia's Adam] Gilchrist used to do that," McKenzie said. "You knew if he stayed there for an hour he'd have 30-40 runs and in a partnership that makes more.

"It's about getting him out rather than keeping him quiet."​