Johannesburg, South Africa – The SPAR Proteas came home to a hero’s welcome on Tuesday, after their outstanding performance in the SANZEA Quad Series netball tournament in England.
A small but vociferous group of fans waving flags, balloons and flowers were at OR Tambo Airport to meet them, and they were also greeted by a small brass band playing songs like “Shosholoza”.
Although the Proteas lost to Australia in their opening match in Liverpool, they led the world champions by five goals at halftime and forced the Diamonds to change their line-up.
Last weekend, they beat the Commonwealth Games champions, the England Roses, by three goals in London on Saturday.
On Sunday they had their best result against New Zealand since 1995, when they beat them in the World Cup in Birmingham. They drew the match 45-all, and forced the world number two team into extra time. The teams were level at the end of extra time, and the match went into sudden death, where the first team to have a two-goal lead was declared the winner. It was a good five minutes before Maria Folou finally scored the winning goal for the Silver Ferns.
The crowning moment for the SPAR Proteas was when goal defence Karla Pretorius was declared Player of the Tournament.
“This shows that we are right there with the best,” declared Netball South Africa (NSA) President Cecilia Molokwane.
“The tournament showed that the World Cup is up for grabs. I predict now that we will come back with a medal.
“It’s great going into the World Cup knowing we have beaten the Commonwealth Games champions in their own backyard,” said Assistant coach Dumisani Chauke.
“We beat them right from the start of the match and that was in spite of the crowd, which was very much behind them.
“We also held our own against New Zealand, so we are getting better at handling pressure situations. We lost to Australia because they kept exerting pressure, but that helped us when it came to England and New Zealand.
“The players are learning to deal with feeling uncomfortable.”
Vice captain Pretorius said the Proteas had benefited from the number of players who were now playing in the Australian, New Zealand and English leagues.
“You train with the best day after day, and every weekend you play tough matches against the best players. It also helps that you learn how to play the best players – you learn their habits and understand how to deal with them,,” she said.
“We need more players to play overseas, because that it good for netball in South Africa, but it is also important that we have a strong league in South Africa. Training is one thing but it’s the time on court that is so important.”
“The Quad Series is so important for the development of our team,” said NSA chief executive Blanche de la Guerre.
“We have improved every time we have played against those top teams. It is just a pity we have not been able to play Jamaica.”