In an exhilarating performance, South Africa pushed the Silver Ferns all the way in their opening Quad Series game, culminating in the smallest margin between the two nations since the Proteas famous victory at the 1995 Netball World Cup.

For more than thirty minutes there was no sign of fatigue or fear from the Proteas, as their exports to the Suncorp and ANZ leagues showed the radical improvement in their conditioning, timing, and decision-making in only eight months.

Photo: Marcela Massey

The New Zealand shooters were the only truly dominant section of their team, with some sizzling play from debutant Whitney Souness instigating a small avalanche of goals in the third quarter. The class and structure of the world number two showed for a mere patch of ten minutes, pushing the lead out to at most ten goals. Finally going down by just seven goals, the South Africans gave their strongest signal yet that they are here to challenge traditional netball powerhouses and enter the top four.

Photo: Marcela Massey

 

Starting lineups

New Zealand
GS – Bailey Mes
GA – Maria Tutaia
WA – Gina Crampton
C – Shannon Francois
WD – Sam Sinclair
GD – Katrina Grant
GK – Jane Watson
Bench – Maia Wilson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Whitney Souness, Phoenix Karak, Kelly Jury
Coach – Janine Southby

South Africa
GS – Lenize Potgieter
GA – Maryka Holtzhausen
WA – Bongiwe Msomi (captain)
C – Erin Burger
WD – Rochelle Loubser
GD – Karla Mostert
GK – Phumza Maweni
Bench – Danielle Lochner, Precious Mthembu, Nadia Uys-Pienaar, Ine-Mari Venter, Zenele Vimbela
Coaches – Elsje Jordaan, Norma Plummer

Umpires – Jacqueline Mizon, Joshua Bowring, Clare McCabe (reserve)

The match began full of African voice and intensity and with notably good timing on drives from the Proteas through the intimidating mobile Kiwi zone. Keen to not start quietly on their tour, the South Africans clearly planned to match their first quarter with the world number two. With Potgieter’s experience in the New Zealand ANZ Premiership evident, she showed unpredictability and variety. She relied much less on her height and in particular timed her leads out to assist through-court play very well. She kept her team on parity, seven all after six minutes, with a stunning off-balance shot on the baseline.

Photo: Marcela Massey

The Ferns’ formula used Tutaia on the straight baseline drive more than the double-play and front cut from the past, deliberately asking her for a turn of speed. The glimmers of unstoppable quick release and flair crept in after about ten minutes, warning the visitors to keep up their defensive structures. Msomi, who had been starring in the English super league, showed some impressive gains from the last showdown in January, using much more energy in preliminary moves rather than in long straight drives, leaving more space for the other three attackers. 

The shooting anxiety that plagued Mes two years ago seemed to be all but over, as she powered through at 100% until the last 15 seconds of the match. She was less reliant on the athletic leaps and instead was presenting nicely in the front space, occasionally with a deceptive roll to the post. It was 18-16 at the first break.

Photo: Marcela Massey

A switch in leads for the New Zealand shooters paid rapid dividends, with the score suddenly 22-16, Tutaia icing every attempt and catching Mostert behind. If any area needed critical improvement for the rangy African defender, it would be her circle switching, footwork near post, and movement around the body. Crampton was the vulnerable player for the Ferns, occasionally overcooking or rushing her pass, or not using full strength in the take or body control to secure possession under pressure. Sinclair was also not pulling her weight in covering the front of the goal third and the access to circle edge.

The dramatic improvement in conditioning and tracking from all the Proteas forced their opponents into maximal effort. Only a few small errors from the South Africans, such as a pass glancing off the goal ring, borderline stepping from an intercept, or a subtle yet correct over-a-third call were proving the difference. As always, the long shooting from Tutaia was an undeniable pleasure to watch.

Photo: Marcela Massey

Mostert and Loubser’s pressure around the periphery of the circle was poetic, as the new timing of the South Africans assuredly brought them to 28-29 with three minutes remaining until the half. There were problems to be solved in feeding for New Zealand, as Mes was not available on the lob, and the current pattern relied on Tutaia too muchFrancois and Crampton were kept off the circle and near the transverse, and Sinclair and Grant were essentially absent on the centre pass. Meanwhile, South Africa had no such issue, cutting, driving, and releasing quickly to find open players and get inspirational goals from either shooter. Against expectations the Kiwis only lead 31-30 at the break.

It was now or never for New Zealand, and coach Southby chose to revamp the line rather than coach the incumbents into the required structures, bringing Souness to wing attack in her debut, Karaka to the somewhat unfamiliar wing defense, and Jury to keeper. The South Africans exchanged Mthembu into wing defense.  It was in this matchup that proved the difference, with the sheer speed, flair, and deceptiveness of the 21-year-old Souness in her perfect drops to pocket or cuts to circle top that made the Silver Ferns’ attack effortless. Her team leaped ahead 40-35 after six minutes.

Photo: Marcela Massey

Jury’s reach was noticeable but had made minor if any difference to the overall possession gains, as she studied the timing of the shot and the delivery to the centre channel, aiming to have an impact later. Meanwhile, captain Katrina Grant was warned by umpire Mizon for persistent contact with six minutes remaining in the third. South Africa’s connection to shooters kept a good standard, but the first signs of pressure and tiredness came late in the quarter, with a few missed shots and softer passes. This is when Grant and Jury found clean ball on previously solid passages off the Proteas, seeing the margin slowly prised out to 47-39 with two minutes remaining. 

Photo: Marcela Massey

With no changes for the final quarter, New Zealand started with demonstrations of their sheer strength in holding off the defense, combined with beautiful footspeed to make space, while South Africa relied on timing into small gaps to keep parity. After four minutes, it was 55-47 to the Silver Ferns. In a nice battle of two wiry tenacious players, Mostert drove her hip into Mes and took the tip and rebound off Tutaia’s wayward shot. Potgieter and Holtzhausen kept applying moves for the full three seconds and were always available with secure hands, even on a less-than-perfectly placed pass.

The game turned into one of defense, where balls were lost by intercepts, tips on shots, or rebounds, rather than the rare squeezing out of intercepts from a composed attack line. With five minutes to go it seemed like South Africa couldn’t regain enough momentum to close the 59-53 gap. As the energy lifted from the crowd and both teams, New Zealand coasted into full time with a few nice intercepts, the final score reflective of their performance in the third, “championship” quarter.

Photo: Marcela Massey

 

New Zealand 63 def South Africa 56
Player of the Match: Maria Tutaia (New Zealand)

New Zealand
Mes 35/36 97%
Tutaia 28/34 82%
63/70  90%

South Africa
Potgieter 43/48  90%
Holtzhausen 13/21 62%
56/69  81%

 

Janine Southby, Silver Ferns coach

On the effort of her team
“We have total respect for South Africa – we’ve seen enough of them in recent outings to know that when they got it together they were going to compete right to the end. A number of their players have been playing in New Zealand and Australia, and the more experience they get, the better they’re going to be. For us, it was a great opportunity to get the young ones out there to experience the international arena too.”

It’s probably a pass mark, just… There was some great stuff on attack, but defensively we have a lot of work to do. We were slow and chased a lot. It’s the first game of this season on the road to Comm Games, and we know we’re going to have to lift our game a lot to face England.”

On how to coach players who aren’t executing their defensive strategy effectively
“I think the big thing is that they need to see it first – you can talk to them til you’re blue in the face, but until they say it they often don’t believe it. There will be a lot of video analysis over the next couple of days for them to understand it, and just going back to what our game plan actually was and how efficient we were in executing it. You know we’re also looking for gains. We’re encouraging them to hunt, and sometimes when you do hunt, you leave something undo (at the back).”

On the improvement of Mes in the past two years at goal shooter
“We think it’s just a confidence thing. Bailey’s got great athletic capabilities, and it’s about her believing in it and showing it. I though tonight she showed a lot of variety, she was strong onto the ball, and with the pressure she was under.”

 

Norma Plummer, South Africa coach

On the improvement of Potgieter, Msomi, and the whole squad
“I was impressed! I take my hat off to the girls – we’ve worked hard. We worked on getting these players into the [Australian and New Zealand] leagues. If we could play here as a team full time, we wouldn’t have the dips and troughs that we havat the moment. Playing under intense pressure sometimes they drop and come back again – but that absolutely take feedback on, and surge again once they get the feedback. They’re capable, really capable.”

“We had three players that we couldn’t bring – one did her knee and is on rehab, another getting married, and then one unavailable. With those changes I was concerned about bringing in some younger ones, but I was rapt, and the older players that have the caps stood up really well tonight.”

On how her midcourt bettered the opposition especially on feeds, but not necessarily on goal assists
“Sometimes we overdose on that, and we’re trying to reduce that – stand up and take the shot! I’d still have to be pleased, our hitting the circle edge was best in the last quarter when I got Erin to change her pattern of play. I told her to stay out, not run into where the defense were already marking, and go to the other side to give the shooter the opportunity to come up through the middle and set up a quick double-play. They’ve got to be able to think about it during play and identify when they need change.”

 

 

Twitter: @NetballDrewski