The SPAR Proteas came from behind to beat Malawi 40-35 in the final of the KwaZulu-Natal Diamond Challenge Netball tournament at the Ugu Sports Centre in Margate on Friday night.
It was a thrilling match that had the crowd on the edge of their seats right until the end.
The Proteas’ new coach, Australian Norma Plummer, sprang a few surprises with her starting line-up, with captain Maryka Holtzhausen on the bench, and Elsunet du Plessis getting her first international start as goal attack. Stand-in captain Karla Mostert moved from goal defence to wing defence, and Adele Niemand moved from her normal position as goalkeeper to goal defence.
The Proteas got off to a bad start, and Malawi were 4-0 up before South Africa scored their first goal in the fifth minute. Goalshooter Lenize Potgieter appeared nervous, and missed a few attempts. Midway through the quarter, centre Precious Mthembu had to leave the court with an injury and the very vocal crowd raised the rafters when local favourite Bongi Msomi replaced her. Msomi showed no sign of after effects from being elbowed in the eye in the match against Uganda on Thursday night.
But the Malawi Queens continued to dominate, with outstanding performances from their goal shooters, Joyce Mvula and Sindi Simtowe, and their defenders, Carol Mtukule and Towera Vinkhumbo, who achieved a number of turnovers in the South African circle.
Malawi led 11-6 at halftime, and Plummer made wholesale changes, bringing on a more traditional team. Holtzhausen and Mostert returned to their usual positions at goal attack and goal defence, Msomi moved to wing attack, Mthembu to wing defence and Izette Lubbe to centre. Potgieter found her mojo and her normal accuracy, but at halftime Malawi were still ahead, leading by 22 goals to 19.
It was in the third quarter that the Proteas started to reel the Malawi Queens in. The crowd cheered every goal and every turnover, and when South Africa finally went into the lead halfway through the quarter, the spectators leapt to their feet as one, and cheered as if South Africa had won the World Cup.
The Proteas continued to pull away from Malawi, and ended the quarter with a 31-25 lead. In the final quarter, the Proteas came into their own, and scored six unanswered goals before Malawi scored again. Mostert was outstanding, achieving some breath taking intercepts and turnovers.
“I was very impressed by the courage of the players,” said Plummer after the match.
“They responded very well and they wore Malawi down. It is very important in netball to have the nous to get out of a tough situation. You have to have netball intelligence.”
Asked who had impressed her, she singled out Mostert and Potgieter.
“Karla came through with great stuff and Lenize is amazing for a kid of her age – she’s only 22,” said Plummer.
Several members of the team who played in the European Championships last month, but not in the Diamond Challenge, arrived in Margate on Friday for trials on Saturday. The squad for the Netball World Cup in Sydney in August is expected to be announced next week. South Africa’s first match at the World Cup is against Malawi.
Earlier, Uganda beat Zambia 59-34 to take third place in the competition.