But a four-Test contest played largely in the kind of overcast conditions in which Philander thrives might have been a very different story if the key seamer had remained fully fit throughout.
The 32-year-old appeared poised for a brilliant campaign after taking five wickets and making scores of 54 and 42 in a man-of-the-match display during South Africa's 340-run series-levelling win in the second Test at Trent Bridge.
But he was struck down by a mystery virus that reduced his effectiveness in the third Test at The Oval and Philander did not even make the team at Old Trafford because of a back problem.
It was not the first time Philander, whose overall Test record of 171 wickets in 46 Tests at an average of 22.45 is outstanding, had failed to complete a series and du Plessis's patience appears to be wearing thin.
"Duanne (Olivier) bowled well this game but Vern is one of the best in these conditions, probably the best in seaming, swinging conditions which has been the case in all four Test matches, so not having him here was very frustrating and disappointing.
"The last I spoke to you (the media) I said he's just got to do a small fitness test but he'll be fine. So when he woke up with a stiff back the next morning it was frustrating," the middle-order batsman added.
"It is a challenge for Vern because it's happened too often that he doesn't play a full series," du Plessis explained. "I've spoken to him about that and he's accepted the challenge and that he needs to improve that.
"There have just been too many times when we as a team go (gulp) 'Vern might be injured again'."
Looking ahead, du Plessis said: "We have important series coming up, not that we play series that are not important, but India and Australia at home, it's eight Test matches and he needs to be fit to get through all of them."
South Africa captain liked what he's heard about potential new Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson.
The current England bowling coach, Gibson has been tipped to succeed Russell Domingo, whose contract with Cricket South Africa expired after the end of a tour that finished with a 3-1 series defeat following England's 177-run win in the fourth Test at Old Trafford on Monday.
"I have asked the England team for their thoughts on Ottis, and they've given me positive feedback," du Plessis told reporters after a reverse that completed a tough tour for South Africa, who also suffered one-day and Twenty20 series losses to England, as well as a disappointing first-round exit in the Champions Trophy.
"I believe (England's) players are good judges, and will be honest with their reflections on a guy (and whether) he'll work as a head coach.
"They've said some really good, positive things about him.
"Personally, if he is going to be the guy, we have to get to learn about each other first."
Meanwhile England head coach Trevor Bayliss indicated he was getting ready for life without 48-year-old former West Indies head coach Gibson as a member of his backroom staff.
"I only found out from you guys (the press) -- that's the first we'd heard of it," said Bayliss of British media reports linking Gibson with the South Africa post. "There's nothing been finalised yet."
The Australian added: "I'm at a loss at the moment whether it's a go-ahead -- we haven't heard for sure.
"By all accounts, it sounds like it."