Four of the top teams in world netball have gathered in Durban for the biggest netball event in South African history – the third leg of the SANZEA netball Quad Series.
The SPAR Proteas will be playing against top-ranked Australia and third-ranked England, while Australia will also take on close rivals, second-ranked New Zealand.
Welcoming the coaches and captains of the four teams, Netball South Africa (NSA) chief executive, Blanche de la Guerre, said the idea for the series was first discussed at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
“The idea is to provide the teams with regular international competition,” said De la Guerre.
“Australia and New Zealand play each other on a regular basis, but for the rest of us, the only time we get the opportunity to play the top teams is at the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. The Quad Series is intended to help England and South Africa get more international exposure.”
Proteas coach Norma Plummer said the players were excited to be playing the top teams at home.
“If the Proteas are to progress, they need to play the best. Our aim is to challenge the best teams. It’s no good playing teams that are weaker than they are, because they won’t grow,” said Plummer.
“In the past, we lost to Australia and New Zealand by margins of 35 to 55 goals, and our immediate aim is to bring the goal difference down. When we played England in the Quad Series in Australia and New Zealand last year, we started off brilliantly and took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter. But then the players lost their way, and what we need to do now is to build on the early success and not be overcome by the occasion.”
England captain Ama Agbeze said the Proteas were improving steadily, thanks to NSA’s investment in their development. “South Africa has to be taken seriously,” she said. “It is only by playing one another than we can test our strength, and the Proteas are definitely spreading their wings.”
Australian captain Sharni Layton said the Australian Diamonds were not resting on their laurels, despite being the dominant force in world netball for a number of years. “We continue to strive for excellence,” she said. “We want to be the best we can be, and we are always trying new things.” “We don’t train as the best team in the world, but as the second best, trying to get to the top,” said Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander. “We know that the other teams are nipping at our heels, so we constantly strive to find new ways to improve and to play to our strengths.”
The New Zealand captain, Katrina Grant, said the Silver Ferns were very excited about their match against the Diamonds on Saturday. “Last year, we lost 4-1 in the Constellation Cup against Australia. We have worked on a lot of things since then, and we want to show them how well we play.”
Australia and New Zealand play the opening match of the South African leg of the Quad Series at 3pm on Saturday at the International Convention Centre. This mouth-watering encounter will be followed by the Battle of the Flowers, in which the Proteas take on the England Roses at 5pm.
image: Reg Caldecott