Starting lineups

Australia
GS – Caitlin Thwaites
GA – Tegan Philip
WA – Liz Watson
C – Kim Ravaillion
WD – Gabi Simpson
GD – Jo Weston
GK – Courtney Bruce
Bench – Caitlin Bassett, Gretel Tippett, Emily Mannix, Madi Robinson, April Brandley

 

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

 

They didn’t win the game, but South Africa produced their best performance against Australia in 50 years.

The Proteas pushed the world number one and lost by only six goals in the second round of the 2017 Quad Series in Canberra, equalling their best effort against Australia since 1967.

Australia stunned South Africa in the first five minutes to take a 7-1 lead. Previous South African teams would not have recovered. Australian coach Lisa Alexander remarked after the game that “a team can be beaten before they even take the court”, referring to the lack of belief lower ranked teams often have against netball’s powerhouse countries.

Not this South African team.

After adjusting to the initial speed of the game, the Proteas showed confidence in their ball placement and the composure to work back into the game. By quarter-time they reduced the deficit to three goals through tight defensive work.

Courtney Bruce had the upper hand early against Lenize Potgeiter, tight one-on-one defence restricting her to just two goals in the first five minutes. Potgeiter began to work the space with shorter movements on the baseline on both sides of the goal circle, forcing Bruce and Jo Weston to switch between shooters.

What Erin Burger lacks in raw speed she makes up for with timing through the South African midcourt. Combined with the raw speed of Bongiwe Msomi, it was a difficult combination for Kim Ravaillion and Gabi Simpson to handle. The South African pair were fearless in placing high balls into unpredictable spots for Potgeiter.

Where Suncorp Super Netball goal shooters often receive lobs on a straight line between the post and the feeder, many of the high balls into Potgeiter were placed on a sharp angle to the post or across court, away from Bruce’s hands. Potgeiter expertly contorted her body to receive wide but split close to the post. It was a tactic that drew a heavy penalty count against Bruce, along with Potgeiter’s unconventional quick and low release on the shot.

Australia was penalised a mammoth 95 times throughout the game, with Bruce and Ravaillion the main culprits. Alexander expressed some frustration with a lack of similar umpiring calls in the Australian goal circle, but also noted her team’s lack of adjustment to the calls.

Tegan Philip’s fight for the Australian goal attack position suffered a blow, with the speedy Victorian unable to make an impact and shooting with less accuracy than she would demand of herself. The Australian attack line looked crowded and disconnected at times, Liz Watson, Ravaillion and Philip struggling to operate as a unit. Thwaites was often forced to receive the ball high in the circle. She shot well, but was under pressure and South African defenders Mostert and Phumza Maweni picked up important rebounds and intercepts that were converted into goals.

South Africa took the lead and Philip was replaced nine minutes into the second quarter after failing to register a shot in that quarter.

Gretel Tippett’s presence at goal attack was immediate. The play may appear less structured with Tippett on court, but her instinctive attack on the ball draws defenders and opens up spaces. Watson did well to work to the angles opened up by Tippett’s drives and Thwaites began to receive the ball more easily.

With scores level at half time, Alexander replaced Weston with April Brandley. Coming off what Alexander described as a difficult SSN season, Brandley worked with determination to lessen Potgeiter’s influence on the game. Although Potgeiter still shot 9/10 in the third quarter, Brandley worked back with Bruce to help congest the space around the post and force uncomfortable longer-range shots.

Tippett and Thwaites connected well to take a five-goal lead and held it throughout the third quarter. The variety in their circle entries kept Mostert quiet, both shooters taking turns at working high, holding at the post and driving around the circle.

Caitlin Bassett entered the game for the final quarter. Australia blew the lead out to nine at one stage through intercepts to Bruce and Brandley as Holtzhausen’s support work slowed and there was less precision in South Africa’s passing. Again South Africa showed a newly developed resilience and fitness to pull the final margin back to six goals.

Despite losing the game, the South Africans were buoyant after the match. Australia were happy to get away with the win, but recognise the significant improvements needed to win the final game of the Quad Series against New Zealand.

 

Australia 58 def South Africa 52
Player of the match:
Caitlin Thwaites (Australia)

 

Australia
Thwaites 30/33 91%
Tippett 16/20 80%
Philip 5/8 63%
Bassett 7/7 100
58/68 85%

South Africa
Potgeiter 40/44 91%
Holtzhausen 12/14 86%
52/58 90%

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Maweni 5(South Africa)
Simpson (Australia) 3
Brandley (Australia )3

 

What they said:

Lisa Alexander

On South Africa’s improvement
“Clearly playing in our SSN and also the ANZC in New Zealand, the (South African) players learn that who they’re playing against here are human beings and it’s not quite as intimidating as what it was in the past when South Africa or Malawi or anyone else played against the Australian team, because they hadn’t done it very often. You can actually beat a team before they actually get on the court. We know that and realise that and that’s why we’ll keep this in perspective.”

 

On Australia’s performance
“We changed our line-up at the start, we were very confident that line-up could run it out. Unfortunately we just couldn’t find Tegan enough and not enough volume and accuracy at the post. Hence the introduction of Gretel with Caity and some beautiful work there, and CBass just finished us off at the end.

“I think we’ve got at least a 20% improvement in many different areas. That’s in concentration areas, it’s in decision making, it’s in our ability to put that intense defence on for longer and be persistent with it, because sometimes we built a lot of pressure but we just let it go with those penalties, so we’ve really got to address that.”

 

Courtney Bruce’s penalty count
“It’s frustrating for us because she did so well against England and we thought we were quite tidy. So we’ll just have to have a look at it. She’s obviously on the body a bit too much, a bit late, you know we need to fix that up, it’s not the umpires, it’s us that has to adjust.”

 

Gretel Tippett’s performance
“She’s just an athlete. The great thing is that she combines well with both Caity and CBass. She’s learning and growing as a player. There’s a few things she’s still… we’re getting frustrated about. One of those is when she goes for a lay-up occasionally (laughs). I could hear Margie saying “oh not again”, choosing the wrong time (laughs).

“Generally she is choosing the right times and I think what she did really well tonight is she took those responsibility shots, those mid-way or quarter of the way out shots that we probably wanted her to do in that last quarter against England and she didn’t, she put CBass under too much pressure. So, she needs to take those shots and she did that tonight and she put some beautiful ball in.

“And she defends like… nobody defends like she does. I mean, she’s really hard to play on. When those goal defences are coming down they know they’ve got an opponent and so, she’s quite a special talent. But within the context of the team, she’s doing what we need her to do within this team, and doing it really well.”

 

How much does she instruct Tippett and how much does she let her play on instinct?
“It’s really interesting. She’s the least experienced of course out of the group. She has a really good sense though of the game now, I think she’s starting to read it herself well and she’s contributing really well to our attacking discussions and also what we’re doing defensively and she’s growing in confidence in that.

“There’s still a few things that she still gets confused about. We were practising baseline throw-ins the other day and just a few little nuances. But in general, if we put the ball to her and put it to her quickly into space, that’s what I want my feeders doing and when they’re doing that, she’s very hard to stop.”

 

Being wary of New Zealand after their loss to England
“We’re always wary of them (laughs). Whenever it’s Australia versus New Zealand it’s one of the greatest rivalries in world sport, really, particularly on their home turf and in Invercargill. They will be really hurting after that loss, so yeah, thanks England! We’re all getting tighter and closer at the top, it’s fantastic for international netball but we know we have to do our homework, we have to analyse what’s happening. We’ve got a new shooting combination to have a look at too, and I’m certain they will have learnt a lot from their run against England.”

 

Caitlin Thwaites

On making the most of her opportunities
“We had Bill Sweetenham (former Australian Swimming Team coach) come in and he spoke about absolutely making the most of every opportunity. He said the great players and great athletes are really ‘predatory’ on the opportunities that they get. So that’s what I’m trying to do, and trying to put pressure on these two (laughs and points to Alexander and Bassett). So it’s good to get out there and have a good run.”

 

Caitlin Bassett

On her captaincy
“It’s been a dream start. It’s testament to this fantastic team. I’m so ably helped out by Madi (Robinson) and Gabi (Simpson) and also Caity (Thwaites) being one of the experienced players in the group, it’s actually not hard. The last two games I really enjoyed and lots of people said “You’re a shooter and you’re going to be captain, is that too much pressure?” Absolutely not, I think it’s another challenge, which is something that I look forward to. But I know when the chips are down that there’s so many players around me who will stand up and help shoulder the load, that I don’t feel it so it’s fantastic.”

 

Has she felt the need to change the way she leads on court because of the captaincy
“I am quite authentic in myself and the girls chose me because of who I am. I think it would be silly of me to change my personality or the way I behave all of a sudden. Obviously at times when things get a bit stressful or if I get a bit nervous, which is natural for a player, I know I’ve got others around me who will help support me. So I just want to be myself. I’ve had so many people this last week going into that first match remind me that I’ve got to this stage because I’ve been myself and I just want to continue that way.”

 

Norma Plummer

On South Africa’s performance
“Are you kidding? That was a sensational performance by these girls. Australia used to beat them by 35 and 55 goals. That’s not happening now. It was 16 goals last time and we’ve dropped it again. And they’re in there, they’re handling the physicality and they’re able to match it. They’re getting better, they’re maturing on it all.

“Look, you can have all the palaver around, you can have everything. You can have every ice bath, sports science, everything. It all gets down to the athlete, the ability, good skills and being able to train at repetition on court, doing it day-in and day-out, that’s where you get your improvement.

“It’s nice to have all that other stuff, but these girls don’t have it. But they’re playing the game and I think the fact that I’m not there all the time, neither is Nicole (Cusack), we only fly in and out. When we have a camp, the amount of hard work they do is just fantastic. And you know what, if we don’t have some of these other countries stand up and actually start to deliver some netball, we won’t make the Olympics, because it’s always Australia, New Zealand, Australia, New Zealand. Look nobody more than me likes winning with Australia. But in the end, if the game’s going to survive, we’ve got to have other countries given an opportunity to really mix it.”

 

Was the game an opportunity lost?
“You don’t go out to lose, you go out to win … To get into the competition to play at a higher intensity for four quarters, pressure on, yes we’re still having that dip, but that’s where I think the growth is coming is learning not to back away when you drop five (goals) and then you can still challenge and come back. They’re doing that earlier and they’re doing that now. So, if we can put the players out amongst the best leagues then the competition is even going to get better and I think that’s a great thing.

“We’ve got to learn to be better at the start though. We had the dip again in the third quarter, we did that against New Zealand too. So that’s identifying change on court, when opposition change up and being smarter in being able to counter-act it.”

 

On the Quad Series
“The decision was made, we could go and play all the lower ranked teams or we could come up, play the three top teams, we’re ranked fifth. And then whether we got beaten or not, can we close the gap? So over the whole Quad Series that’s been our challenge, and it’s better. I reckon the cellophane will break down the track and we might get one. We only need one. I’m an Aussie, right, but I’ve been on both sides of the field in that sense.

“But I think this series has got to change. We can’t be going to one game there, one game here. Fly overnight virtually, up at 4 in the morning. South Africa are paying 20 times more than Australia, England and New Zealand (with the difference in currency value), but they’re prepared to put the money up because they want their team to get better. To get down there and play another one game, it would be better if it was central. South Africa to have it one year, England have it one year. I think all of the powers that be understand that.”

 

Whether netball should be in the Olympics
“That’s what I know the Olympic federation have said, we’re a one gender sport and we haven’t got enough teams, yet Commonwealth countries we’ve got about 80 countries registered. But we’ve got the four top teams, five and six and then it all fades away because there’s no money put into female sport. You know, Uganda has just started to emerge. I can tell you now, if you went into those African countries and you could put money into them and they could train every day and not have to work, I tell you what, it could be sensational.

I think netball should be (in the Olympics). You’re having rock-climbing… you can’t tell me this spectacle is not going to be good. Fair dinkum, I mean, seriously!”

 

Karla Mostert

Her improvement through Super Netball
“Week in, week out, where you play this high intensity game. You train with the best in the world and you play against the best in the world and you get that experience. That is something that you can’t exchange for anything. Especially the off-court stuff like the hard weights program, getting into that, the professionalism, the way they’re trying to do it full-time, where we don’t have that in South Africa. But getting into this competition (SSN) to play every weekend is such a high intensity, such a hard game. Getting that experience made me a better player and it can contribute when we come back to our national team. It definitely contributed to that.”

 

Bongiwe Msomi
“I’m just proud to step on court and play netball. I think the whole team is about that. We’re all out here enjoying what we’re doing despite what happens behind the scenes if we’ve got support, we’re happy to play. We are really privileged to have Norman and Nicole (Cusack) and they just appointed Elsje (Jordaan).

I think after these two games that we’ve played here, we’ve really showed that we can go out there and compete. The better we play, the more we enjoy it. I promise you, you cannot understand how we all feel right now. No one wants to go on court for 60 minutes and be trashed. We want to compete in sport and we want to be at the same level as other athletes. We give it our all, we’ve got everything, we’ve got the right information. It’s about just being consistent and putting it out there for 60 minutes.”