The SPAR Proteas got off to just the start they wanted when they comfortably beat Zambia 63-38 in the opening match of the KwaZulu-Natal Netball Diamond Challenge in Margate on Tuesday night.
The Proteas were generally much taller than their Zambian counterparts, and made good use of this height advantage, particularly in the Zambian circle, where Adele Niemand and Karla Mostert were able to turn the ball and get it back to the South African side.
Bongi Msomi at wing attack and Precious Mthembu at wing defence were also outstanding, achieving numerous intercepts and turnovers.
The match was fast and physical and South Africa maintained a good level of scoring throughout the match. They were 14-10 ahead after the first quarter, and led 33-16 at halftime, with the second quarter being Zambia’s worst, with only six goals. The ‘Chipolopolo’ stepped up the pace in the third quarter, scoring 10 goals to South Africa’s 15, and the last quarter was their best, where they scored 12 goals to the Proteas’ 15.
Former Australian coach Norma Plummer, who has now been appointed Proteas coach for the Diamond Challenge, made some changes in the third and fourth quarters, as she tried out different combinations.
Lindie Lombard came on for Maryka Holtzhausen as goal attack for the second half, with Phumza Maweni replacing Adele Niemand as goalkeeper, and in the final quarter, replaced centre Izette Lubbe with Nokubongo Sibiya, giving the Kingdom Stars player her first international exposure.
Plummer said afterwards that she was quite pleased with the performance, although there was much to be done if South Africa wanted to succeed at the Netball World Cup in Sydney in August.
‘Zambia have not had a lot of exposure to international netball, and if the Proteas think they can get away with that them will not work against the stronger teams,’ she said.
‘The Proteas make too much use of the long pass, and teams like Australia and New Zealand will just eat them up – they need to work smarter, and use short and sharp passes. We have a lot to work on before the World Cup,’ she said.
Asked about the Zambian team, Plummer praised the shooters, Margaret Mutafela and Agnes Chingambo. ‘They’re unbelievable, and they certainly know where the goalposts are,’ she said.
Holtzhausen, the South African captain, said the Proteas were very pleased to have won their first match of the tournament. ‘We know we still have a lot of work to do,’she said. ‘For example, we need to look after the ball better.’
The Proteas’ archrivals Malawi, who are one above South Africa in the world rankings, showed their strength with a decisive 51-40 win over Uganda.
However, it did not go all the Malawi Queens’ way. The Uganda She Cranes, led by their dynamic captain and goalshooter Peace Proscovia, were just one goal behind Malawi after the first quarter, which ended 15-14 in Malawi’s favour, and outscored Malawi in the third quarter by 12 goals to 10. Proscovia, who is Holtzhausen’s teammate at Loughborough in the English Super League, was named player of the match. She said she was very happy that her team had fought until the end.
‘Malawi are number five in the world, and Uganda are No 14. So we are very excited that we managed to keep up with them, and even win a quarter,’ she said.
South Africa and Malawi meet in the first match on Wednesday, with Zambia and Uganda locking horns in the second match.
Picture of Mthembu by Reg Caldecott