2015 was a busy and exciting year for netball, South Africa’s biggest women’s sport, and particularly for the national team. The Proteas got into action early in the year, as they prepared for the all-important World Cup in Sydney, Australia, in August. The South Africans had numerous opportunities to test themselves in international competition, including their participation in the European netball championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The national team put up a good performance in Belfast, finishing second to England. Netball South Africa showed their determination to do well by inviting former Australia coach Norma Plummer to participate in a training camp in Pretoria. Plummer coached Australia to victory in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, and is one of the most highly-respected coaches in world netball.
Plummer was later appointed to coach the Proteas at the Diamond Challenge against Malawi, Uganda and Zambia at the Ugu Sports Centre near Margate. There was great jubilation when it was announced during the Challenge that Plummer had also been appointed to coach the Proteas at the World Cup. Her influence was immediately evident, as the Proteas made short work of their African opponents, including their eternal nemesis, Malawi, and they won the Diamond Challenge in style.
The Proteas travelled to New Zealand before the World Cup for a three-Test series against the Silver Ferns, who are ranked second in the world. Although South Africa lost the series 3-0, it gave Plummer the opportunity to spend time with the team and put her ideas into practice. Shortly before the start of the World Cup, South Africa were finally acknowledged as the fifth-ranked team in the world, and they maintained this status by finishing fifth in the competition.
They lost their opening match to Malawi, but got their revenge in the fifth-place playoff, when they beat the Malawi Queens by 50 goals to 40. The general feeling was that if Plummer had had more time with the team, they could have done even better. Shortly after the World Cup, the cream of South African netball gathered in Ugu for the Spar National Championships.
For the first time, the senior and Under-21 championships were played simultaneously, and the participating teams were drawn from provinces rather than districts. Netball South Africa (NSA) Director of Demarcation and Structures, Mami Diale explained that the aim of the new approach was to raise the standard of play at the tournament and to ensure that it was all high performance. Although there were a few teething problems, most coaches welcomed the new format and agreed that it exposed more players to netball at the highest level.
North West made a clean sweep at the tournament, walking away with the gold medals in both the senior A and B divisions, as well as in the Under-21 contests. The Brutal Fruit Premier Netball League entered its second year, and proved even more popular than in its first year in 2014. It was notable that the difference between the stronger and weaker teams had shrunk, proving the value of giving players more game time.
NSA President Mimi Mthethwa says 2015 had been an important and successful year: ‘We are particularly happy that we are having so much interaction on social media with our netball fans. The Brutal Fruit Premier League has captured their imagination and it is clear that there are many fans out there. We welcome their input, and take their criticism to heart. We aim to develop our relationship with our fans over the coming year.’ While two former stalwarts of the national team, Amanda Mynhardt and Zanele Mdodana, announced they were hanging up their netball shoes, Mthethwa said the Brutal Fruit competition, and the national championships had shown that there was not shortage of talent in South Africa.
Mthethwa says: ‘I believe netball will continue to go from strength to strength.’
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott