Coach quietly confident the team can come home with a World Cup medal.
The Spar Proteas have their best chance in 25 years of winning a medal at the netball World Cup in Liverpool, which started on Friday.
South Africa won the silver medal at the World Cup in Birmingham in 1995.
Speaking on the eve of the team’s departure for the UK, head coach Norma Plummer said the Proteas had shown tremendous growth since she started coaching them shortly before the World Cup in Sydney in 2015. She was quietly confident they could win a medal.
“The Quad Series [against Australia, New Zealand and England] has been extremely important in helping the players to learn to play in pressure situations. In January, we beat England and then went on to take New Zealand to extra time,” she said.
“The players have learnt to deal with pressure and how to handle uncomfortable situations.”
Plummer said that a number of players had been playing in professional leagues in New Zealand, Australia and England, which meant that they were used to dealing with pressure week after week.
“We have six players in the Suncorp Super Netball league in Australia, which is the most competitive league in the world. Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni have been playing together for Sunshine Coast Lightning and have developed into the best defensive unit in the competition.
“The players who have played overseas have been training every day and playing against some of the best players in the world. They know they don’t have to stand back for anybody,” she said. “There are five countries that can make it to the top and we are one of them.”
Captain Bongi Msomi said the team was very excited about going to a netball World Cup.
“We know that we are going to be competitive and we are going for a medal,” she said. “The game against New Zealand in January gave us a lot of confidence.”
Plummer said South Africa was in the toughest group, but she believed they would do well.
“Our third match is against third-ranked Jamaica, who could be a challenge. But, although, they beat us at the Commonwealth Games last year, we had been hit by injuries and they definitely didn’t have things all go their own way,” she said.
The team departed for the UK last Thursday and travelled straight to Wales, where they were in training camp ahead of two World Cup warm-up tests against Wales, which they clinched. On Friday evening in Cardiff, they beat the hosts 79-44 at the Viola Arena, which came after their 84-32 drubbing of Wales on Thursday evening.
“The Wales series is very important,” said Plummer. “It will give me a chance to assess the players and see what we need to work on, and it also gives the players some match time ahead of the World Cup.”
Plummer said she had been under no pressure from Netball SA to select a team according to quotas.
“This is the best possible team. I look for talent, and these players are all very gifted.”
However, in a blow for South Africa, Ine-Marí Venter has been withdrawn from the team due to an injury sustained during training in Cardiff. Venter, who plays for the Melbourne Vixens, has earned 11 caps. This would have been her first World Cup.
Sigi Burger, who plays for the Surrey Storm in England, has been called up to replace Venter and has already joined the team in Cardiff. She has 13 caps and this will be her first World Cup.
The tournament ends on July 21. South Africa have been grouped with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Fiji in the 16-nation competition. They open their campaign against Trinidad and Tobago on Friday. – BLD Communications