The euphoria of whitewashing the ever-improving Scotland Thistles will not cloud the Spar Proteas’ realization that they need to raise the bar if they want to be classed in international netball circles as serious medal contenders at next month’s Commonwealth Games in Scotland. The South Africans’ series win meant that they stepped up the International Netball Federation (INF) world standings from sixth to fifth position behind Jamaica, England, Australia and pace-setters New Zealand. At the Games, where 12 countries will be competing, South Africa has been drawn in Pool B along with England, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Wales and Barbados.
Scotland will campaign in Pool A where their rivals will be New Zealand, Malawi, Jamaica, Northern Ireland and St Lucia. Speaking after Saturday’s third Test in Bellville, Proteas head coach Elize Kotzé said the three Tests over as many days help her identify the areas her side needs to work on in the run-up to the Games. “We now have a good idea of what we need to do in training before we start playing in Glasgow. We were very well tested by a Scotland side that showed improvement every time they played. It was a wonderful opportunity for the squad to take to court and test our combinations. I’m happy with the way the newcomers came through the matches and they all did very well,” said Kotzé.
The back-to-back wins over three consecutive days have instilled a fresh bout of confidence in the Proteas’ ranks. It was equally morale-boosting because the 12th world ranked Thistles has already defeated South Africa’s Pool B competitors Trinidad and Tobago and Wales earlier this year. “Going into the Games our confidence will be right up there. We started off perhaps slower than we would have liked but then we were made to work much harder as the matches went by. It was a wonderful test of character and I was pleased with the way the Proteas showed fighting spirit. We’re excited with the challenge the Games will throw up and we’ll be well prepared,” said Kotzé.
Kotze used the three Tests to try key players in a number of roles and she felt that the outcome was that the team now has more selection options at the Games. She added that the fierce competition over the three days has brought about a new resolve in the national squad to lift their playing standards. When the Scottish contingent arrived in South Africa a few days ago, there was always a hint that the Thistles were a better side than their 12th world ranking would suggest, more so after their giant-killing wins over higher ranked countries like Wales (8), Trinidad and Tobago (10) and Northern Ireland (11).
Their coach New Zealand-born Gail Parata may have been at the receiving end of three defeats but she always felt that the reverses would stand her side in good stead for future matches on the international stages. She was highly encouraged by the manner in which her charges managed to close the gap with South Africa as the three Tests progressed. “We have to say the South Africans have an amazing team and I’m thrilled that my team showed improvement every time we were up against them. There is still so much of a gap between us (SA and Scotland) but we showed that we are it. We played well at times but against South Africa you need to play well all the time,” said Parata.
Parata said once the teams have arrived in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games she will look to round off the Thistles’ training by playing a friendly against the Proteas just ahead of the start of the event.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott