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SA netballers in World Cup history books

 

 

The Spar Proteas are into the Netball World Cup semifinals. Judging by the way the team has carried itself on the court every night in Liverpool, their place there never looked in doubt.

For South African sport it’s finally an opportunity to go deep in major-team competition this year. It’s been a long winter: Banyana Banyana crashed out of France; the Proteas cricket team fell flat in England and Bafana painfully couldn’t crack the Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals.

That all changed on Wednesday night as Uganda were toppled 65-37 to secure South Africa a spot in the last four for the first time in their history. (South Africa technically finished second in 1995 but under a different format.)

The fourth-quarter performance flatters the final score somewhat because the first three were characterised by tight end-to-end play.

With highly athletic captain Bongi Msomi at wing attack, the Proteas will always fancy themselves in such situations and indeed she proved the difference as the Cranes were overrun 19-4 in the last period. Goal shooter Lenize Potgieter and goal attack Maryka Holtzhausen ensured they didn’t waste Msomi’s passing and retained constant attacking pressure by putting up great shooting stats of 93.6% and 91.3%, respectively.

It was a fifth straight win for South Africa, who blitzed through both preliminary group stages — a run that includes an incredibly hard-fought 55-52 win over Jamaica, one of the tournament favourites.

“It means a lot to them. It certainly means a lot to me,” said coach Norma Plummer after her side booked their spot in the semis.

“I came on board just to help out, the next minute I was coaching the team.

“They have worked extremely hard; their attitude, their ability. They’ve deserved everything that’s come their way. They’re great athletes, really good athletes.”

Plummer has been instrumental in the establishment of the country as a netballing force over the past four years.

A World Cup winner with Australia in 2007, the septuagenarian was persuaded to come out of retirement in 2015 and is now writing one last chapter in her storied career.

“It just shows that South Africa has got all that depth there and they’ve got to be able to keep producing it now,” she said.

“I think for the country it’s really good because before I left they kept telling me that cricket had lost and rugby had lost. I said, ‘Well, guess what? I’m an Australian so it hasn’t rubbed off on me!’ Hopefully everyone back home is enjoying the fact that we’ve at least made the final four.”

The Proteas’ trip to the semis is the latest bit of good news in an incredible turnaround for netball in South Africa. Just a few months ago it threatened to get stuck in the mire after major sponsor Brutal Fruit declined to renew its contract. Since then, Cape Town has been awarded the 2023 World Cup and the funding gates have reopened. Telkom, in particular, has pledged its long-term support. If the Proteas lift the trophy, it’s expected the team will receive R1-million as a bonus.

Right now that’s still a big “if”. South Africa are joined in the last four by England, Australia and New Zealand, all expert netball-playing nations. But, whatever the results this weekend, no one can take away the fact that this team has made history.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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