International Tests

Proteas Struggle to Bloom Against Netball Elite

The South African SPAR Proteas have unfortunately maintained their last-place record after facing netball’s top teams at the Quad Series without a single win. While the Proteas’ largely struggled across the series and potentially left England with more questions than answers, their final game against New Zealand, where they lost by one goal, does spark some hope.

The Ugly

England notched a new Quad Series record for most goals in a game during their 71-47 thumping defeat of South Africa. It was immediately clear that South Africa had yet to fill the gaping holes left by Karla Pretorius (out due to pregnancy), Shadine van der  Merwe (injury), and, perhaps most significantly, Norma Plummer (contract ended). Lenize Potgieter was also unavailable for this Quad Series; however, her role was largely and arguably filled by Ine-Mari Venter. The team who frightened the top four in 2019 at the World Cup also misses veterans Erin Burger and Maryka Holtzhausen, with Holtzhausen, in particular, clearly leaving a gaping hole in South Africa’s Goal Attack position that no player has yet stepped up to fill. 

South Africa continued to struggle against Australia and  New Zealand during the rounds, and new national coach Doretta Badenhorst seemed not to have any answers to combat what the world’s number one and two were throwing against the Proteas. For a coach who had stated, during a virtual press conference at the start of the year, that the aim for South Africa was to have a stable combination to put out on the court, Badenhorst made change after change which failed to create an impact and disrupted the team’s ability to grind out solutions against any opposition. During the first three days of games, South Africa only won a single quarter which was their last quarter on day three against the Ferns. This is a massive problem for any team trying to compete for a medal at the Commonwealth Games in a few months.

The Good

Thankfully, by the final match, South Africa had taken, reviewed and learnt their lessons from the previous day’s game. For the last game, South Africa started the seven players who had won the one quarter from the previous day and were a lot more competitive throughout that final match. South Africa delivered their highest score for the series pushing New Zealand to a 50-51 goal game. Lefebre Rademan took to the court with confidence in Goal Attack and turned to the post to shoot. Rademan had previously only attempted 31 goals across the previous three games and only sunk 20 of them, but in this final game took 21 shots on goal and sank 15. While she had a lower than international standard shooting accuracy, her ability to share the load with Venter in this final game ensured South Africa was finally pushing to achieve a close to game-winning score and helped split the attention of the Ferns’ defence. If Rademan can build on this performance and start the big games with confidence and purpose, South Africa will be more balanced and much stronger to push for a podium finish at the Commonwealth Games. 

Nicola Smith should be booking her ticket to the Commonwealth games. While Smith was benched for the first 13 minutes of the second quarter, she came back on to make a difference. It is clear that this Baby Protea has started to bloom and could be the future of South Africa’s defensive unit. Against the Ferns, Smith had some impressive stats with two gains, two deflections, 2 rebounds, 7 centre pass receives (equal to Rademan for this game) and 1 pick-up. Alongside this, the 21-year-old only had 11 contacts and obstructions, equalling that of Goal Keeper Phumza Maweni. Smith helped drive the ball down the court and was a much stronger defensive presence for the Proteas against the Ferns. There is, of course, plenty of room for Smith to grow and clean up her game; however, Smith is an exciting revelation for the Proteas who were looking for answers in Pretorius’ absence.

The Hopeful

In the final game against the Ferns, albeit a likely weaker New Zealand team compared to what will likely be on court come July, Badenhorst put a starting seven out on court who were largely allowed to grind out the game. Five of the starting seven played the full sixty minutes on court, which illustrated that the Proteas had lifted their output across the court and that Badenhorst had given her team a job to deliver on and believed they could do that job. While we will hopefully see the return of van der Merwe and Potegieter to the squad for Comm Games, likely, the Proteas have found their starting seven. From Wing Attack to Goal Keeper, you could book those five players into a starting spot, with potentially the only change being van der Merwe taking the Wing Defence bib off Chawane. For the big games against the top four teams, the big question will remain over who fills the shooting circle. 

Ine-Mari Venter thrived as South Africa’s Goal Shooter during the Quad Series, where she shot at 94.6%, 86.5%, 86% and 95% across the four matches. Venter was dominating the shooting circle taking impressive long shots while two defenders double-teamed her and always ensured her mid-court players knew how to find her. However, the potential return of Potgieter will threaten her starting spot on court unless Venter moves out to the Goal Attack position. Venter did rotate out to Goal Attack during the Quad Series, which unfortunately was often when her shooting accuracy would drop. This is, however, largely because Venter had to continue to be the playmaker and key shooter for the team. At the 2019 World Cup, Potgieter was third on the list of top scorers during the competition. If Venter has the option of just being the playmaker out front of Potgieter and Potgieter takes most of the shooting burden, that could be an incredible line-up for South Africa. However, the remaining question in that scenario would be if Venter has the fitness to run out a big game in Goal Attack, when she has historically spent most of her playing time, both internationally and in domestic leagues, as a Goal Shooter. With Rademan potentially still working up to being a strong international player, South Africa should be seriously considering a Venter- Potegieter shooting circle. 

Finally, South Africa clearly still have the talent and skills to be pushing for a podium finish at the Commonwealth Games. The returning strength and experience of van der Merwe and Potgieter will bolster the South African side, potentially solving the remaining weaker points of the team’s starting seven. Further, like much of the South African team, Maweni struggled against the English Roses but came alive against Australia. With Maweni playing for Team Bath in the upcoming Superleague season, Maweni will gain the same level of opposition knowledge against the English attack lineup that she currently holds against Australia, after her years playing SSN. This will also add confidence to the South African international’s game and likely see her increase her defensive output come Comm Games. 

When the Commonwealth Games roll around, South Africa may have the luxury of a few easier games to start the tournament. However, they will not be able to afford the shell shocked start that was on display during the Quad Series if they commence their Comm Games campaign against any of the top four teams. South Africa still has the bones of a strong team, but they will need to consolidate their strength and the lessons from the Quad series over the coming months if they want that podium finish.

Header Image: Sky Sports

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