While the South African invitation team put up a strong fight in the first half, they were outclassed by an Australian invitation side in the opening match of the SPAR International Netball Series at the SANDF Kopanelo Sport Centre, in Potchefstroom, on Sunday night.
Despite the convincing 66-33 loss, Dorette Badenhorst, the coach of the SA squad which is made up of Under-23 players, remained upbeat about her team’s performance.
While the South Africans played their first ever match together, the core players in the touring outfit, representing the Australian Centre of Excellence, have lived together for the past three months.
“There are a lot of positives we can take from this match,” Badenhorst said.
“For a lot of our players this was the first time they played at this level, and it’s the first time they’ve played together as a team.
“The second quarter was excellent and going forward we can take a lot from this game. The more they play togther, the better they’ll get.”
The visitors got off to an explosive start, displaying more speed and aggression than their opponents, as they took a 7-2 lead midway through the first quarter.
The hosts fought back, however, and while they struggled to match the pace and physicality of the tourists, they were more clinical and precise around the court, reducing the advantage to 9-6 after 10 minutes.
That was the closest they would come to closing the gap, though, as the Australians drew clear once again to lead 18-6 at the end of the opening quarter.
Refusing to throw in the towel, the SA squad continued to fight but they were dominated in defence, and while goal shooter Eloise Annandale struggled with her accuracy, goal attack Mari-Lena Joubert did well to keep some pressure on the Australians up front.
Maintaining contact, the home side trailed 30-17 at half-time and were still in with a chance of working their way back into the game.
In an attempt to give all her players some game time, Badenhorst made four changes for the third quarter, with all four subs – Chante Steyn (goal shooter), Tshina Mdau (centre), Sasha-Lee Peersen (wing defence) and Kefiloe Tsotetsi (goalkeeper) – sent out on court.
The changes did not have a positive impact, however, as the tourists ran away with the game in the third and fourth quarters, romping to a comfortable victory.
“I don’t think the score is a true reflection of the game. I didn’t realise the gap was so big,” said Australian captain Ashleigh Brazil.
“The South African girls were amazing, from defence to shooter, and I was really impressed with them. We’re looking forward to the next game.”
The second fixture of the three-match series will be played at the same venue, at 6pm, on Tuesday night.