The Spar South Africa netball team beat Jamaica in an international netball test match for the first time in 28 years earlier this week, by 56-49 in the third and final test played in Kingston, Jamaica. Jamaica, however, won the test series 2-1.
Inspired by the late Whitney Houston hit The Greatest Love Of All, the Spar Proteas walked onto court with a greater belief in themselves and gained immediate respect from not only their opponents but also the crowd. It was obvious that the Proteas had regrouped since the last test on Sunday and looked a confident and collected team.
"I was really disappointed after the last test," admitted Protea coach, Elize Kotze. "I was hard on the girls and told them that they had to believe in themselves and if they did they would believe in the team and play as a strong unit." The inspiration seemed to work as the Proteas played a consistently aggressive attacking game throughout the four quarters, allowing a limited attack by the Sunshine Girls.
A dream start
It was a dream start for the fired up Proteas in the first quarter, who turned two balls around within minutes of the start and within only three minutes of the game led 4-0. The Proteas fought hard and in a real physical first half the visitors had doubled their lead to 12-6 with four minutes remaining in the half. The brilliant combination of Amanda Mynhardt (goal defence) and Vanes-Mari du Toit (goalkeeper) restricted the tall star Jamaican shooter Shanielle Fowler, who was clearly frustrated by the South Africans tactics. At the end of the entertaining first quarter South Africa led 17-13.
The Proteas made a strong second half start and turned around four balls to take a 22-15 lead. Erin Burger at centre played a brilliant part with Nokuthula Qequ (wing defence) in moving the ball swiftly from centre to circle and goal shooter Chrisna Bootha was well on target in the circle.
But the Sunshine Girls are never to be written off. Their popular captain Nadine Bryan, playing in her 100th test, made two crucial interceptions, which seemed to throw the Proteas slightly off course. The Proteas lost the second quarter 13-14 diminishing their lead and by the half-time whistle the Proteas led 30-27.
Be ready for the battle
"We had to look hard at ourselves at the break," said Jamaican captain Nadine Bryan. "I told my girls that the last two quarters were going to be tough and they had better be ready for the battle. South Africa played the final two quarters like their lives depended on it and I must applaud them for their incredible fight. They won the battle, but I am pleased that we won the war."
After the half-time break, a very different Sunshine Girls team took to court. The hometown favourites stepped up a gear and six minutes into the third quarter they had equalled the score for the first time in the game at 30-30. They turned the ball around, intercepted and rattled the South Africans, and were soon five goals in the lead. A switch by Kotze replacing a struggling vice-captain, Zanele Mdodana, with Bongi Mthembu didn't seem to give the Proteas any advantage. The Jamaicans ran away with the third quarter winning it 17-18 and led overall 44-38 going into the final quarter.
A much higher intensity
In the final quarter, the Proteas gave it their all. It was a brave performance and a much higher intensity amongst the South African players was evident on court compared to the previous two tests. The star of the Jamaican side, Fowler, in a tussle for ball with Vanes-Mari du Toit, injured her ankle and back and was replaced by new cap Vanessa Walker.
After five minutes into the quarter the Proteas levelled at 44-44 and then the visitors found new life. Brilliant combinations and great goal shooting had the Proteas take a five-point lead (50-45). A desperate Jamaican coach, Oberon Pitterson-Nattie decided to bring Fowler back on and to thunderous applause the giant shooter returned to court with her ankle heavily strapped. Fowler, despite injury, gave the home side hope and her athleticism helped restore some order to the battered Jamaican side.
However, the Proteas sensed victory and kept their composure, keeping on the attack with Maryka Holtzhausen (goal attack) netting two goals from the base of the circle with minutes to spare. The Proteas won the final quarter 18-5 and the test 56-49. The last minutes were loud and raucous and all credit to the players who managed despite the noise to maintain their composure.
"What a win, what a performance, I am so proud of my girls," said Kotze. "This win could be the start of new and great things for the team and netball in South Africa."
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