The Netball Proteas got off to the start they wanted when they comfortably beat Zambia 63-38 in the opening match of the KwaZulu-Natal Netball Diamond Challenge at the Ugu Sports Centre near Margate on Tuesday night. Former Australian coach Norma Plummer, who has been appointed Proteas coach for the Diamond Challenge, made some changes in the third and fourth quarters, as she tried out different combinations. Lindie Lombard came on instead of Maryka Holtzhausen as goal attack for the second half, with Phumza Maweni replacing Adele Niemand as goalkeeper, and in the final quarter, she replaced centre Izette Lubbe with Nokubongo Sibiya, giving the Kingdom Stars player her first international exposure.
Plummer said afterwards that she was quite pleased with the performance, although there was much to be done if South Africa wanted to succeed at the Netball World Cup in Sydney in August: ‘Zambia have not had a lot of exposure to international Netball, and things the Proteas can get away with against them will not work against the stronger teams. The Proteas make too much use of the long pass, and teams like Australia and New Zealand will just eat them up – they need to work smarter, and use short and sharp passes. We have a lot to work on before the World Cup.’
Asked about the Zambian team, Plummer praised the shooters, Margaret Mutafela and Agnes Chingambo, saying: ‘They’re unbelievable, and they certainly know where the goalposts are.’ Holtzhausen, the South African captain, said the Proteas were very pleased to have won their first match of the tournament: ‘We know we still have a lot of work to do. For example, we need to look after the ball better.’
The Proteas’ archrivals Malawi, who are one above South Africa in the world rankings, showed their strength with a decisive 51-40 win over Uganda. However, it did not go all the Malawi Queens’ way. The Uganda She Cranes, led by their dynamic captain and goalshooter Peace Proscovia, were just one goal behind Malawi after the first quarter, which ended 15-14 in Malawi’s favour, and outscored Malawi in the third quarter by 12 goals to 10.
Proscovia, who is Holtzhausen’s teammate at Loughborough in the English Super League, was named player of the match. She said she was very happy that her team had fought until the end: ‘Malawi are number five in the world, and Uganda are number 14. So we are very excited that we managed to keep up with them, and even win a quarter.’ South Africa and Malawi meet in the first match on Wednesday, with Zambia and Uganda locking horns in the second match.