SA knuckle down for university netball champs

There will be stiff competition for hosts South Africa at the inaugural World University Netball Championship which gets under way in Cape Town on Monday.

The South African student side, drawn from all the provinces, is captained by Free State star Maryka Holtzhausen, fresh off her recent tour of Jamaica with the senior national team.

"We're definitely more than a competitive side, we're one of the best sides at this tournament," Holtzhausen said on Sunday.

"We'll give everybody a run for their money.

"Playing Ireland in our opening game is tough and we're expecting a competitive game.

"We're going to have to play our best to beat them, but we're up for the challenge."

Holtzhausen was the pick of the South African players by Jamaican coach Oberon Pitterson-Nattie, after the Sunshine Girls beat the Proteas 2-1 in their three-match Test series in Kingston last month.

Coach Dorette Badenhorst, who mentors the North West university side, felt the biggest challenge for the SA students would be to find some cohesion as they had not played as a unit before.

"We've got a lot of players here who are close to making the national side and university sport is one of the biggest sources for national selection," Badenhorst said.

"It's a challenge for them as a unit but it's a great opportunity for players to compete at such a high level.

"The tournament rules – with the age restriction – allows the younger players a chance in the international spotlight and I hope there are going to be lots more tournaments like this over the next few years."

Northern Ireland won the silver medal at the European Championships in May, but at university level the team comprises players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"We rate this tournament as massively important because it's a great stepping stone into the national team from the Irish universities," said the Irish coach, Elaine McLaughlin.

"We don't really know what to expect because it's a new tournament so we're taking each game as it comes.

"We know the most about Great Britain and they're a very formidable side as all the Great Britain players have played for England at some level before."

The South Africans expect their greatest challenge to come from Jamaica, who have brought six players from their senior national team to Cape Town.

The two teams are only likely to meet in the final of the six-day tournament, should they both win their groups and progress through to the last stage.

Late entrants into the competition, Zimbabwe, and the inexperienced US side are the other two teams in Group A with South Africa and Ireland.

Uganda, the dark horses of the competition, Jamaica, Great Britain and Namibia are in Group B. – Sapa

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