It was a case of so close yet so far for the South African netball team, but the Spar Proteas’ performance at the World Cup augurs well for the future of the sport in the country and on the continent.
South Africa came within a sliver of beating the powerhouse Australian team, bowing out of the semifinals in Liverpool yesterday with only a two-point deficit against the defending world champions.
However, their 55-53 defeat to the Australian Diamonds does not spell doom and gloom.
The Proteas return to the court this afternoon for a shot at a bronze medal against England, in a match that will mark coach Norma Plummer’s 50th test in charge of the team.
The 74-year-old announced immediately after yesterday’s match against her former side that today’s game will be her last with the team as she ends her tenure after four years at the helm.
While Plummer said she was pleased with the overall performance of her charges, she criticised their slow transitions and their failure to come out tops in high-pressure situations.
The first and second quarters produced goal-for-goal action, but the Proteas will rue the four-point deficits in both quarters after failing to capitalise on turnovers.
The reigning champions went into the half-time break leading 14-10, but a late surge by South Africa fashioned some heart-stopping moments, backed by a vociferous local crowd keen to see the Aussies lose.
Goal shooter Lenize Potgieter inspired the fightback where South Africa prevailed 16-12 and 14-12 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
However, some good defending in the fourth ensured that Australia hung on for a spot in today’s decider against New Zealand, who beat England 47-45 in yesterday’s other semifinal.
The third-place play-off will present Plummer’s team with a chance to show the world yet again that they are a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.
As the next hosts in 2023, South Africa proved with their gutsy showing against the world champions yesterday that they are capable of standing up to the best.
It was generally a solid team effort that pushed the Proteas to their first semifinal appearance in 24 years.
South Africa finished the preliminary rounds unbeaten at the top of their group, scoring wins over Jamaica (55-52), Trinidad and Tobago (76-45), and Fiji (90-35).
The Proteas then thrashed Uganda 67-40 on Wednesday to seal their semifinal spot, having also demolished Scotland 66-38 to ensure a berth in the last four.
Yesterday’s loss to Australia was only their second – they went down 58-47 to the hosts on Thursday.
And, with Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi finishing in the top eight, these performances show the positive trajectory that the development of netball in Africa has taken. It was the first time that four African nations finished in the top eight.
South Africa came to the tournament ranked fifth in the world, and their global ranking will go up if they clinch bronze today – a feat that will guarantee each player a R250 000 bonus, as promised by Netball SA.
Their loss to the Aussies means they lose out on the R500 000 promised to each player by Telkom to bring home the silver medal, and the R1 million for winning gold.