The South African netball team is still finding its feet under new coach Burta de Kock and, after a number of setbacks during 2006, the national team will be looking for a steady improvement as they prepare for the World Championships later in the year.
gsport spoke to coach de Kock about star performer Yvonne Phiri’s tragic death, the loss to the team of a number of key performers, and the team’s preparations and plans for 2007.
Netball has suffered the tragic loss of Yvonne Phiri recently, can you tell me how the team is taking that now?
Yes, that’s a very very sad thing for netball, it happened after the team finished the squad camp. The camp ended on the Saturday, and that evening she lost her life in a motor accident.
The ladies, the players, we are all shocked. But at this stage, we went to the funeral, we accepted this setback in a good way, and we viewed it as a bonding (experience) for all the players as well as bench team.
What position did Yvonne play in, and how will has this affected your preparations for the World Cup?
Yeah, that’s also a thing that’s affected the players. It’s a sorrow, and we’re going miss her, because we practiced her in a wing-attack position, because we had a lack there, and she was brilliant there.
She was a very talented player. Really, she was in the high of her netball career, and she showed a lot of commitment and job discipline. She was looking forward to a wonderful tour, so we practiced with her for the 10 days of the squad camp into the wing-attack position, which is a critical position, and she did excellently.
So that has an influence on the team, but we have a lot of young talented players with vibrant energy, and I know that they will overcome this, and there are a lot of talent. There are definitely other players who will have to fit into that position.
It’s a terrible thing that’s happened to South Africa, but fortunately we have a lot of young players who are welcoming this as an opportunity.
Talk to us about 2006, it was a very difficult year, with tours of Fiji and New Zealand which didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. How is the team facing the issues that cropped up in 2006?
Yeah, I joined the management team from the first of October, so I am aware of things that happened to the team, because of what the players have said at that stage.
So, in the new team, there are a lot of new inexperienced players. Some of the previous players have said to me that they are emigrating this year, and a lot of brilliant players, because of their work situations, they can’t really go on.
Because we’re preparing in the new season with a World Cup, this takes a lot of time, and they can’t really get time off from work. So, unfortunately, South Africa will miss them, there’s a lot of experience that has been lost.
But taking all that, we took the team to Malawi, with a shock to see that some of the players are so good, to just loose, don’t worry about that, watch the game. So we’re trying to develop a type of winning habit into the players, and it works, it really works.
We’ve had to train up some of the specific positions according to when we started, the centre position, we swapped a wing with a centre, then we swapped the goal attack.
Then, the attacking play, the pace of it was too slow, hopelessly too slow to take on the world at this stage.
We’ve also heard that Fiji isn’t the host anymore for the World Cup in July, there’s also a possibility of moving the date to November 2007, but we haven’t heard confirmation of that yet.
We just read in the newspapers that maybe it’s New Zealand, or Australia, and maybe it can move to November. So maybe there will be an possibility for more training, that will help South Africa a lot.
Because the new players who are not aware of losing, they are just looking forward to this opportunity to show the world that we have a lot of talent in South Africa.
What are your upcoming plans for 2007?
Yeah, we’ve planned two-week and three-week camps in each and every month, we are going in on the 12th of January for a camp, and leaving on the 17th for England for a wonderful tour.
I’m looking forward to seeing the youngsters, inexperienced, but good experienced players like Sindisiwe Gumede and new captain Karen Venter, and Leigh-Ann Zackey, so there are a lot of experienced players, and they are also looking forward to watch these youngsters on court.
We’re going to play a test series against England, and also there may be a possibility of Malawi again in February again. But I promise you, we will do our best, it will not slip through our fingers again.
What is a realistic expectation for the World Cup?
At this stage, I don’t believe there is ground to say that we will take this position or that, we are working into a winning habit. I told the players just now, we’re going to play game by game. We are still in fifth position according to the World Cup ranking, we are working to stay there, and to do our best to do better.