The Proteas have been on the ascent in 2019. They have elevated their status in South African sport and engraved their names on the country’s hearts. They are ranked fifth in the world, but there is always a question that lingers: Can the Proteas match those ranked above them?
They did so against a daunting Jamaica side at the World Cup in July, but the difference would eventually show when they fell short at the hands of Australia in the semifinals and then England in the match for third place.
Now, they have a crack at redemption. England come to the Velodrome in Cape Town at the end of November for a three-match Test series and are on a tricky path after failing to win the World Cup, in which they were tipped as favourites. They’ve also slipped to third in the world rankings. The Proteas, on the other hand, have just been crowned African Champions, and only have room for improvement.
Captain of the Proteas, Bongi Msomi, is relishing the continuation of this rivalry, but insists that the quality of the English cannot be underestimated, because they are still a top-three side. After all, the Proteas have defeated the Roses only 14 times in 58 meetings.
“I think, to be fair, we do have confidence, but we are also aware that the African Champs are way different to what we are going to get here against England,” she said.
“Sometimes they win and sometimes we win, and with the good combinations we had at the African Champs, now will be the time to see if we can execute, because we are playing against one of the best in the world,” Msomi added.
The captain also believes that these fixtures are the best ones to show the Proteas where they stand and provide a helping hand to coach Dorette Badenhorst, who only took charge of the squad just before the African Netball Championships.
“We are lucky that Dorette has been mentored by [former captain] Norma [Plummer] in a couple of training camps and tournaments. It is nothing new that they are trying to instil: it’s just them following through and really just to carry on what we have been doing,” Msomi said. “But also the calmness of Dorette — her knowing the players and being South African as well — it is a different vibe like that.”
Badenhorst’s vision is for 2020. She said that an analysis of the last game against England is useless, because both sides have new players coming in, and different squads will take to the court in Cape Town than did in Liverpool.
But the English Roses are also a side adapting to new leadership from the bench. Jess Thirlby replaced Tracey Neville after the World Cup and the English Netball Federation have emphasised that she will be the woman to surmount the challenges the sides faces. She coached Team Bath for 20 years and brought the likes of current England captain Serena Guthrie through the youth channels when she worked with the Roses under-21 side.
Thirlby understands that the Proteas have moved on from being the best of the rest to now wanting to challenge those above them.
“The Proteas are a good team and proved that at the Netball World Cup,” she said.
“I’m sure they’ll be looking forward to a rematch against the Roses so it’s definitely going to be one to watch.”
The teams’ respect for each other will take a backseat once the onfield rivalry resumes on November 29, and, for captain Msomi, it is essential that her side equip themselves adequately to have strong starts to each match in the Test series. An added boost is that the Proteas will have their internationally based goal shooter, Ine-Marí Venter, available for selection.
South Africa has just come off the sporting high, ironically by defeating England in the Rugby World Cup. A series win for the Proteas — the SA Sports Awards team of the year — won’t quite attain this level, but it will shore up belief that there is more than one national team ready to duke it out for gold.