Northern Ireland made the South African team fight every step of the way to win the third and final match in the SPAR Challenge series in Cape Town by 58 goals to 52 on Wednesday (Visit the RugbyAfricaTV channel on Livestream.com for copies of live-streamed matches, or view YouTube uploads at SouthAfricaNetball).
South Africa won the series three-nil, but the team from Northern Ireland can go back home with their heads held high, after outscoring South Africa in the second and final quarters.
Proteas coach Elize Kotze started the match without some of her front-line players, with captain Amanda Mynhardt, Erin Burger and Aneret Viljoen all warming the bench. For the first 10 minutes, the teams traded goal for goal before Northern Ireland briefly took the lead. South Africa came back at them and won the first quarter 16-13.
Mynhardt replaced Karla Mostert at goal defence in the second quarter and brought on some stability, although the visitors outscored South Africa by 14 goals to 12 in the second stanza.
The Northern Ireland goal shooter Noleen Lennon, who was named player of the match, and goal attack Oonagh McCullough were both outstanding and as the goals piled up, the hosts appeared to panic, making a number of unforced errors.
With South Africa leading 28-27 at halftime, Kotze brought in her big guns, like Erin Burger and Aneret Viljoen. Burger replaced Bongiwe Msomi who had played excellently, winning her the title of player of the series.
Their presence was felt immediately, as South Africa won the quarter by 20 goals to 12. That difference was enough to ensure South Africa’s victory, although Northern Ireland won the final quarter 13-10.
“We can’t make excuses. Maybe we were over-confident,” said Kotze. “Also, I tried new combinations today. This is the first opportunity I have had to try something like that, and I realise how valuable our more experienced players are. “I’m really not worried,” she said.
“We won the series 3-0 and the fact that Northern Ireland came back tonight was fantastic. The challenge was good. They re-strategised and played a whole new game, which meant I also had to change my strategy.”
“This series showed me who could cope with pressure. We have a much bigger challenge towards the end of the year, when we play the top three teams, Australia, New Zealand and England, in the Quad series. If you can’t make it at this level, then we have to look very seriously at our choices.”
Northern Ireland coach Jill McIntosh, who said after Tuesday’s defeat that she wanted to narrow the winning margin, said she was delighted by the team’s performance. “I think the team really believed in themselves and their ability,” she said.
“They cut down on their unforced errors, which was one of our big targets. We also managed to force South Africa into making errors. “The more this team gets out and plays international netball, the better they will be.”
Spar Challenge Test Series at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town: South Africa 3-0 Northern Ireland England U21 2-1 South Africa U21 Results at the Third Test on 11 July 2012: South Africa 58-52 Northern Ireland England U21 55-44 South Africa U21 Results at the Second Test on 10 July 2012: South Africa 66-42 Northern Ireland South Africa U21 56-31 England U21 Results at the First Test on 9 July 2012: South Africa 61-37 Northern Ireland England U21 37-48 South African U21