took a step towards their goal of qualifying to play in the Commonwealth Games
in Delhi next year with a convincing 47-33
victory over Fiji in the
final of the SPAR Challenge at the Rembrandt Hall at Pretoria University
on Saturday afternoon.
Fiji took the lead early on, and dominated the first two quarters. At halftime, they were 28-24 ahead, and it was not until the closing minutes of the third quarter that South Africa were able to close the gap.
The capacity crowd cheered every goal as the Proteas first drew level and then passed the Pacific Islanders. At the end of the third quarter, the Proteas led 37-35.They extended their lead early in the final quarter, and were eventually six goals ahead, but then Fiji came back strongly and reclaimed the lead.
With less than two minutes to go, the Proteas once again clawed their way back from three goals down, and as the seconds ticked by they got within one goal of the visitors. When Chrisna Bootha aimed for goal in the dying seconds of the match, there was silence in the hall and then the crowd erupted as the ball dropped safely through the net to bring South Africa level on 49-all, as the final whistle blew.
The draw means that South Africa, who won their first match against Botswana on Wednesday, will play in the final on Saturday afternoon.
Proteas coach Carin Strauss was pleased with the result, but said she felt that nerves had cost South Africa dearly in the early stages of the match.
"Chrisna was very nervous at the beginning and missed some easy shots at goal," she said. "People always talk about the last goals in a match, but those early misses were important."
She praised the goal defence, Amanda Mynhardt, and goalkeeper Adele Niemand, who both made some telling intercepts at crucial stages in the match, but said that the work done by wing defence Zanele Mdodana had been vital in clearing the ball.
Fiji coach Melissa Walker – in charge of her first international match as coach – said she was satisfied with the draw. "If we had won, it wouldn’t have been because we were playing our best netball," she said. "I know we can do better and we will be taking Botswana very seriously tomorrow."
The visitors’ Maria Bereso had an impressive game at goal attack and was rightfully chosen player of the match.
The Proteas were well supported by Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile, Deputy Sports Minister Gert Oosthuizen, and Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as well as the South African men’s hockey team, who cheered their fellow Proteas throughout the match.