They haven’t beaten them in 10 years, and travelling with a squad with an average age of 22, the SPAR SA Netball team were unlikely to change that statistic when they took on England in the first of three Tests in Birmingham, England, on Monday night.
But despite the final result, 67-30 to the home side, the first quarter was a good one for the South Africans who took England by surprise, and enjoyed a two goal lead with five minutes to go to the first break.
The momentum was not to last, however, as the English nerves settled and they equalised at 9-9 and then went on to open up a four goal lead, finishing the quarter on 14-10.
The second quarter saw the game being taken away from the South Africans, as England extended their lead significantly right from the start.
The England side’s superior speed kicked in as the South Africans battled to keep up, and the home team could do no wrong, Louisa Brownfield’s 100 per cent shooting record confirming that.
The remainder of the match simply saw the Commonwealth Games bronze medallists well and truly running away with it, as the SA side did not manage to net the ball for a full five minutes in the third quarter, allowing the home team to extend their lead even further.
Once again it was a failure to apply the basics that let the South Africans down, and despite a slight improvement towards the end of the 15 minutes, they finished the third quarter 19 goals down on 46-27.
Unlike in the match against the Welsh, where SA could make the most of shooter Sindi Gumede’s height, high passes into the circle were not an option, with Geva Mentor especially impressive for England in defence.
The final score was slightly worse for SA that the 32-goal difference achieved by the English the last time these teams played each other at Commonwealth Games in Melbourne last March. But considering the inexperience of this South African side, things could certainly have been worse.
"I’m not sure what went wrong in the second quarter," said SA captain Karin Venter afterwards. "We just lost our focus and threw the ball away. We were our own worst enemies. But you can’t get better experience than this.
"Now the girls have the full picture – the competition, the crowds (8000 people), everything. Now we need to move forward from here," she added.
"And at least we know what to work on. We will do all the stats, watch the DVD and focus on what needs to be done before the next match."
England’s coach Marg Caldow said: "We were a bit rusty in the first quarter because we haven’t been on the international scene for about seven months, so we took a while to settle down, but I was really pleased overall.
“We had the opportunity to try different combinations and they worked well and I was delighted with the shooting,” said Caldow. “But we can’t expect South Africa won’t improve for the next Test, and we still have a lot to work on as well."
The South Africans take on the England Under 21s in Manchester today (Tuesday) before facing the senior side for their second Test on Thursday and then again in London on Saturday.
Progressive match scoreline:
First quarter: 14 -10
Second quarter: 30 – 16
Third quarter: 46-23
Full Time: England: 67; South Africa: 30