The SPAR Proteas went down to the Australian Diamonds in their Quad Series match in Durban on Tuesday but will pick themselves up with the fact that the 62-46 defeat was the Proteas’ narrowest margin of defeat ever against the world champions.

The South Africans did not start well, and were only able to score in the fifth minute. Goal attack Vanes-Mari du Toit, playing for the Proteas for the first time since 2013, looked nervous and rusty, and fluffed several shots at goal. Coach Norma Plummer took her off at the end of the first quarter, when Australia were leading 17-9.

Lindie Lombard, who had such an impact on the match against England on Saturday, once again influenced proceedings when she came on for Du Toit. Plummer also brought veteran player Precious Mthembu on for Juline Rossouw at wing defence.

Goal attack Karla Mostert has to leave the court because of a blood injury, and her presence was missed in the second and third quarters. By halftime, Australia had increased their lead to 11 goals (31-20) and it appeared the Diamonds might run away with the match.

In the third quarter, the Proteas seemed to lose focus and the Diamonds stretched their lead to 45-30, but in the final quarter, with Mostert back in action, the Proteas came back strongly, losing the quarter by just one goal, despite goalkeeper Phumza Maweni being sent off for two minutes, leaving Mostert alone in the circle.

Centre Erin Burger had an outstanding match, and was well supported by Mthembu and captain and wing attack Bongi Msomi.

Plummer said she was ‘quietly pleased’ with the outcome of the match. ‘We used to lose to Australia by more than 50 goals, and we got it down to 16,’ she said.’We’re in there – we just have to learn to be more consistent. There is still a lot of work to be done. We turned over some balls but there were times when we lost the ball in the circle, so there was no benefit from the turnovers.’

She said Du Toit was a very skilled player, but she had been out of netball for some time with an injury. ‘I wanted to see how she played, because I want to see the depth of the players around the starting seven,’ said Plummer.

She said it was important for the players to develop more muscle and power if they were to compete at the top level.

Australian coach Lisa Alexander said South Africa were closing in on the top teams. ‘They need more control over their bodies, and they have to increase their mental toughness and resilience,’ she said.

‘They’re pushing the top teams but Australia, New Zealand and England are all fully professional, whereas the South Africans are amateurs.’

The Proteas leave for the United Kingdom on Wednesday for the final leg of the quad series. They will play New Zealand in London on Saturday night.

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