Having overcome the frustrations of drastically delayed transport, freezing weather and lost bags, the SPAR SA Netball side finally got their UK tour off to a wining start in Deeside, Wales, by defeating the Welsh 45-42 on Saturday night at the Deeside Leisure Centre.
But is was a little too close for comfort. The SA side had a promising start, putting the first points on the board and then immediately claiming a turnover which they converted to take a 2-0 lead but matters soon levelled out after that.
The South Africans capitalised on their height advantage, particularly with feeding the ball to shooter Sindi Gumede. But Gumede had her work cut out for her, with some wayward passes being flung in her general direction at regular intervals.
Towards the end of the first quarter the SA shooters weren’t seeing any ball in their circle at all, however, and had it not been for a gallant effort in defence, particularly by Adele Niemand (as well as some inaccurate shooting from the Welsh who had started out bang on target), the scoreline could have looked decidedly different to 11-11 at the end of the first 15.
The beginning of the second quarter saw the Welsh edging ahead with a slim lead but this was soon closed down by the SA side who had once again managed to bring Gumede in on the action.
She was ably assisted by Annari Store and SA had soon opened up a four goal gap. But a flourish of unanswered goals just before the end of the quarter meant that they went into half time only one goal ahead on 21-20.
It was a far more determined and focussed-looking South Africa that took to the court for the third quarter with passes sticking and interceptions coming thick and fast.
This allowed them to stretch their lead significantly but the tenacious Welsh hung on, not allowing the game out of their grasp and going into the final quarter five goals down on 36-31.
The home side went a long way in closing that gap with four unanswered goals at the start of the quarter, much to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd but the South Africans held on with the tips of their fingers, finally winning 45-42.
“It was pretty close and we put ourselves under a lot of pressure,” admitted SA captain Karin Venter afterwards. “We made a lot of basic mistakes and that’s something we will have to work on.
“But we are a young and very inexperienced side and these are the kind of games we need to gain experience just in terms of finding out where we are and what we need to do.”
Venter added that it had been an emotional game for her side who played with black armbands in memory of their teammate Yvonne Phiri who was killed in a car accident just before this tour.
All in all it was an impressive effort from the Welsh side who are ranked below South Africa and were certainly the underdogs going into this match, having been fairly well beaten the last time these two sides met at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March last year.
Progressive match scoreline:
First quarter: 11-11
Second quarter: 21- 20
Third quarter: 36-31