Dunedin: New Zealand's chase for an unlikely 401 runs to beat South Africa in the first cricket Test began badly as they lurched to 27 for one at tea on the fourth day at University Oval here.   

The visitors had declared their second innings on 435 for five midway through the second session on Saturday then peppered New Zealand's batsmen for more than an hour, with Morne Morkel hitting Rob Nicol on the body several times.   

Vernon Philander was also consistently creating doubt just outside off stump with some late away swing proving too much for Martin Guptill, who was caught at third slip by AB de Villiers for six to leave New Zealand 16 on one.   

Nicol, who needed treatment on his left hand after he was hit by a steeply rising delivery from Morkel, was 10 not out, while Brendon McCullum was also on 10 at the break.   

South Africa captain Graeme Smith had declared midway through the session, shortly after Jacques Rudolph had become the third player in their innings to reach a century.   

Rudolph, who had resumed after lunch on 59, raced through to his sixth Test century and was on 105 not out, while Mark Boucher was on 34 when the Proteas ended their innings with a lead of 400 runs.   

New Zealand will need to surpass not only their highest successful fourth innings score in New Zealand (324-5 against Pakistan in 1994) but also the highest successful run chase in the country. West Indies scored 348 for five to win the Test in Auckland in 1969.    

Only four other sides have scored more than 400 runs to win a Test match when batting fourth.   

New Zealand's highest score batting fourth is the 451 they scored against England at Christchurch in 2002, which was dominated by Nathan Astle's 222 as he achieved the fastest double century in Test cricket off 153 balls.   

The visitors, who had resumed the day on 268 for three lost just two wickets with Jacques Kallis caught by Nicol off Trent Boult for 113, while de Villiers was caught in the deep by McCullum for 29 off the part-time spinner Kane Williamson.   

South Africa need to sweep the series 3-0 to take over the world number one test ranking from England.

(Agencies)