AB de Villiers was left to rue some soft South Africa dismissals but claimed all is not lost after Australia took charge of the first Test on day two at Kingsmead.
De Villiers made an excellent 71 not out in Durban on Friday but ran out of partners, Mitchell Starc taking 5-34 as the Proteas were bowled out for only 162 on a slow pitch in reply to 351.
Mitchell Marsh's 96 frustrated South Africa before Starc and Nathan Lyon (3-50) came to the fore.
The tourists will start their second innings with a lead of 189, but De Villiers still thinks his side can turn it around.
"There were a couple of softies [dismissals] today but also some really good bowling," said the former captain.
"Australia had a really good intensity about them and they seemed to be clear with their plans. We could feel that they seemed to know what they were doing.
"But it's not all lost. Some guys looked really good out there and we just didn't convert. We just didn't cross that line today.
"If you cross that line with two batters out there, things change very quickly. We came up just short.
"The wicket is getting harder by the day and it won't be easy for them to bat out there tomorrow. It's up to us to make sure we have the right game plans in place. We are not out of it."
He added: "We've got our work cut out tomorrow. But we still believe we can turn this around."