Defending champions Gauteng North team with their trophy after beating Free State Motheo at the Bellville Velodrome on 13 August, 2011. From left to right: Behind: Elize Kotze (Coach), Magda Janse van Vuuren (Manager), Vanes-Mari du Toit, Melissa Myburgh, Rozanne Matthyse, Anneret Viljoen, Annemarie Frost, Desmarie Kotze, Jenny van Dyk (Asst Coach). Front:  Vasta Mhlongo, Martha Mosoahle, Erin Burger, Momazizi Mzayidume and Heike Kotze. Photo: Reg Caldecott / Gallo Images

The outcome of the SPAR National Championships next week has been thrown wide open with the news that members of the national team will not be taking part.

The championships, featuring more than 80 teams from around South Africa, will be played at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) from Monday August 6 to Saturday August 11.

Gauteng North’s Erin Burger (right) and Cleo Kgupotso from runners-up Free State Motheo, compete for the ball in the 2011 final, in Cape Town. Photo: Reg Caldecott / Gallo ImagesMembers of the national team have been withdrawn so that they can attend a training camp ahead of the Diamond Challenge, in which South Africa will play a series of matches against Malawi, Botswana and Tanzania from August 15 to 18.

Jenny van Dyk, coach of defending champions Gauteng North, said the withdrawal of the Proteas from her team opened up exciting opportunities for rising stars. “We are the team that is most affected by the Proteas not playing for us, but we have a lot of depth of talent, and we have a very good structure in Gauteng North.

“I have pulled in some Under21 players,” said van Dyk, “and also some student players. It is a wonderful opportunity for younger players to get some experience at a senior level, and it also gives Elize Kotze (national coach) a chance to see who is likely to make it.”

Four members of the Gauteng North team – Vanes-Mari du Toit, Chrisna Bootha, Erin Burger and Anneret Viljoen – will be attending the Proteas training camp. “It will be interesting to see what will happen at the national championships,” said Van Dyk.

“Most of the top teams are affected by the withdrawal of the Proteas, so it is difficult to gauge how good they are going to be. We will have to learn very quickly about the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams. It is going to be very exciting. Obviously we are going there to win, and I believe that we can do it for the third time in a row.”

The teams likely to provide the stiffest competition include last year’s defeated finalists, Free State Motheo, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay, while Western Province and Boland can never be under-estimated.