The Spar Proteas surprised the nation in 2019 as consistently the best performing South African sports team. The turn of the year marks a chance for the side to turn that surprise into a regular occurrence.
The South African netball side travel to Birmingham, England to compete against New Zealand, Jamaica and England in the Vitality Nations Cup which begins on January 19.
The Proteas produced colossal performances against these teams recently, but have too often fallen short on the scoreboard. Their last test series came against England in late 2019, where they lost by two matches to one.
Tshwane netball coach Jenny van Dyk believes that the performances against England were a cause for concern, but at the same time, Proteas coach Dorette Badenhorst was still experimenting with the squad she had.
Proteas goal shooter Ine-Mari Venter also expressed her disappointment at the test results, but said that the inexperience in the team played a huge role as it was not the same team that competed at the World Cup.
To find the consistency to take the Proteas forward and guide them to some victories at the Vitality Nations Cup, Badenhorst will need to alter some of her tactics, which were only effective to a certain extent against England, and pay more attention to the attacking side of the game.
“The coach needs to make important decisions considering future combinations and the best way you can test combinations is under pressure.
“It’s a new cycle, absolutely everything they do needs to improve profoundly if they want to continue these performances,” Van Dyk said.
“We always have strong intercepting defenders in our country —some of the best in the business for sure, so we turn enough ball. Scoring off our possession —goals from gains especially becomes increasingly important. The mid-court attacking combo’s [centre/ wing attack/goal attack] patience, craft and persistence will be important,” she added.
And although Venter agreed that a lot of work needs to be done, she insists that the new coach and players have yet to come to grips with each other, so a heuristic approach needs to be taken, especially for new players in the setup.
“Dorette has wanted to be in this position for a very long time and I think she’s very passionate about the sport. We are all trying to learn just as she is. The England test series was her first international test series and she was trying to learn the players just as we were trying to adapt to her. So, I think we can only get better as time goes on,” Venter said.
Whether it be a new team or not, however, the odds seem stacked against the South African women. The Proteas’ have only beaten England in 15 of 61 meetings and their victory against Jamaica at the World Cup was their first over the Sunshine Girls in 28 years. New Zealand also boasts a positive record against the South Africans.
This seems to have only stimulated more adrenaline in the veins of the Proteas who are relishing the chance to throw punches at the best yet again.
Venter argued that the side remains focused and motivated as they all want to reach the realms of professional netball. She also believes that because of their recent victories over Jamaica and England, they can beat them again, whereas they may have to rely on luck and attitude when it comes to the Silver Ferns.
The Proteas have made huge strides in the past two years, but now the test of maintenance and improvement faces them. Whether they will stagnate or improve is yet to be seen, but victories over opponents at the Vitality Nations Cup will keep their spotlight alive for the rest of 2020.