The SPAR Protea netball team travels to Belfast this week for the European championships, to be played from Thursday until Sunday.
Speaking at a farewell function for the team, Netball South Africa President Mimi Mthethwa, said the tournament was a wonderful opportunity for the coach and players to put into practice what they had learnt from former Australian coach, Norma Plummer, who spent valuable time with the national squad earlier this year.
‘She suggested new ideas and a different approach, and the players will be able to try these out. I wish the team every success in this tournament. I know that every combination that takes the court will do their best.’
The other teams taking part in the European Championships are England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Trinidad and Tobago and national coach Bennie Saayman said that although South Africa was the second ranked team in the tournament, the Proteas could not afford to be complacent.
‘There is no team taking part that we can take for granted – every match will be a challenge. And of course, the biggest challenge will be England, who are ranked third in the world. It is very important for players to get as much international exposure as possible. The best way of learning how to play top teams is to play against them.’
She said she was very happy with the make-up of the team, which includes three new caps – Mari-Lena Joubert, Rochelle Lawson and Lauren-Lee Christians – as well as a number of very experienced players. Two senior players, Bongiwe Msomi and Zanele Mdodana, who were initially in the squad will not be making the trip to Ireland and have been replaced by Izette Lubbe and Shadine van der Merwe.
‘It is a very balanced team,’ said Saayman. ‘It is important to introduce younger players into the national squad so we can see how they cope at the top level.’
She said the squad travelling to Belfast was not necessarily the team that would go to the World Cup in Australia later this year.
‘The Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League started last week, and the top players will have five weeks of intensive, top level netball to show us what they are capable of. Last year, two players, Lenize Potgieter and Phumza Maweni, forced their way into the national squad because of their outstanding performances in the NPL, and we’ll be on the lookout for rising stars this year as well,’ said Saayman.
‘Also, we have the Diamond League tournament after the Brutal Fruit, so the top players have plenty of opportunities to catch the eye of the selectors,’ she said.
Players are as follows: Lenize Potgieter (Gauteng North), Melissa Myburgh (Gauteng North), Maryka Holtzhausen (Mangaung Metro), Mari-Lena Joubert (Cape Winelands), Lauren-Lee Christians (Mangaung Metro), Erin Burger (Gauteng North), Izette Lubbe (Gauteng North), Precious Mthembu (Ilembe), Shadine Van der Merwe (Gauteng North), Rochelle Lawson (Boland), Phumza Maweni (Cape Metropole), Adele Niemand (Mangaung Metro)
In the picture Proteas players (from left to right) at this week’s pre-departure training camp: Lauren-Lee Christians, Shadine Van der Merwe, Rochelle Lawson, Izette Lubbe, Maryka Holtzhausen. Picture: Netball South Africa