Anrich Nortje took three wickets as South Africa's seamers tore through England's top order to leave the home side teetering on 116 for six before rain brought a premature close to day one of the first Test at Lord's on Wednesday.
England looked as though they would be bowled out for a low total before the weather intervened just six overs after the lunch interval and no more play was possible.
Ollie Pope produced a lone resistance to the visitors' relentless onslaught and is unbeaten on 61. He will resume the innings on the second morning with Stuart Broad, who has yet to score.
The tale of the first day has been South Africa's aggressive and accurate fast bowling rather than England's swashbuckling 'Bazball' style that had brought the home side four excellent Test wins in a row earlier in the summer.
According to CricViz, 34% of deliveries on day one resulted in a false shot, the second highest percentage at this point in a Test innings for England since 2006.
South Africa won the toss and elected to bowl under overcast skies, with England captain Ben Stokes conceding he would have done the same.
Kagiso Rabada (2-36), who was an injury doubt going into the game, made an excellent start, dismissing both England openers cheaply to catches behind the wicket.
Alex Lees (5) went too hard at a delivery just outside his off-stump and was caught comfortably by wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne, while Zak Crawley (9) edged to a diving Aiden Markram at second slip.
Joe Root (8) scored a superb unbeaten century at Lord's earlier this summer but could not replicate that as he was trapped leg before wicket by left-arm seamer Marco Jansen, the in-swinging ball shown to be clipping the leg stump.
Jonny Bairstow has also had a golden summer but he produced a shot to forget when he missed a rapid straight delivery from Nortje (3-43) and was bowled for a duck, beaten for sheer pace in a delivery that topped 150-kilometres per hour.
Stokes had looked to attack the bowling and reached 20 from 30 balls before he was caught by third slip Keegan Petersen off Nortje, the last ball before lunch to compound a miserable morning for the hosts.
The tourists managed one more wicket in the short afternoon session as Ben Foakes (6) was bowled by a rampant Nortje.
The match is the first of three Tests in the series, with fixturesalso to be played at Old Trafford (Aug. 25-29) and The Oval (Sept. 8-12).