The SPAR South African netball team leave on Wednesday for a short tour of Wales and England, during which they will play one Test against Wales and three against England.
The tour is part of South Africa’s preparations for the World Championships in New Zealand in November, and the team is a blend of youth and experience.
“It’s a new phase in the development of the team,” explained captain Karin Venter. “Most of the new members of the team played in the world under-21 championships in the United States in 2005, so they have some international experience, and they also have valuable experience of playing in a major tournament.
“This tour will be very important for our preparations for the world championships. England are ranked above us internationally, and they play a similar style of netball to New Zealand and Australia, who are the top teams in the world.
“Their style of play is very fast – the ball moves very fast, and the players are also very fast, so we will have to speed up our style of play as well.
“It is also important for us to play away from home so that everyone can get used to travelling. We will be playing on international courts with international umpires and get used to playing in conditions that are different from those at home.”
She said the team was pleased that the world championships had been switched from Fiji in June to New Zealand in November. The International Netball Federation announced in December that it had moved the world championships to New Zealand after a military coup in Fiji on December 5.
“It was very hot when we played in Fiji last year, and New Zealand will be cooler. Also, we have more time to prepare for the world championships,” said Venter.
The first Test is against Wales on Saturday January 20. Venter said South Africa had beaten Wales at the Commonwealth Games.
“Their style of play is similar to England, but they are not as fast, and the players are also smaller – you don’t get those very tall girls that you get in the English and New Zealand teams.”
The three Tests against England are in Birmingham on Monday January 22, Manchester on Thursday January 25 and at Wembley on Saturday January 27.
Birmingham has special meaning for South African netball, because it was there that South Africa won the silver medal at the world championships in 1995, on their return to international netball, beating powerhouse New Zealand in the semi finals and losing to Australia in the final.
The SPAR Protea Team: Karin Venter – Captain (Free State), Sindi Gumede (North West South), Tsakane Mbewe (Gauteng Central), Tamaryn Bragg (Gauteng East), Annari Store (Free State), Rusky Mthethwa (Gauteng Central), Precious Mthembu (Ethekwini), Refiloe Mochaka (Gauteng Central), Elzet Engelbrecht (Free State), Erin Burger (Gauteng North), Nontle Gwavu (Eastern Province), Leigh-Ann Zackey (Gauteng West), Adele Niemand (Free State) and Anchen du Plessis (Free State)
Burta de Kock – Coach
Hazel Gumede – Assistant Coach
Marchelle Maroun – Manager
Tume Komane – Physiotherapist