The SPAR netball Proteas are abuzz with excitement ahead of the Quad Series against Australia, New Zealand and England starting in Durban on Saturday.
“It’s a new year, new beginnings, and we can’t wait to get out on the court and play,” said Proteas captain Bongi Msomi.
“There’s an awesome mood in the camp, and we are looking forward to showing what we can do.”
Last year, it was announced that the four countries had joined forces in a groundbreaking partnership to be known as SANZEA. The aim of the partnership is to provide the teams with the opportunity to play high-level international netball outside of the regular World Cup and Commonwealth Games competitions.
The inaugural matches in the Quad series were played in Australia and New Zealand last year, before moving to South Africa. The final matches will be played in England later this year.
Australia, New Zealand and England are ranked first, second and third respectively. South Africa is ranked fifth in the world, and is aiming to break into the top four.
The Proteas have been taking part in a training camp ahead of their opening match against England at the Durban International Convention Centre on Saturday.
“We have 16 players taking part in the training camp,” said head coach Norma Plummer.
“We brought in the extra players so that we have enough for hit outs, and also so that the players on the fringes of the national team can experience what being around the team is like. It is also useful in the case of injury to have players who have been training with the Proteas.”
Plummer, who coached Australia to gold medals at the World Cup in 2007 and 2011, said she was very pleased with the fitness of the players, who had obviously stuck to their training programmes over the festive season.
“We have very good individual athletes, and what we are working on now is maintaining their connections on court, and making them a more astute team.
“When we played last year, our focus was on going out and challenging the top teams. We also aimed at ensuring that we narrowed the gap, bringing the goal difference down from more than 50 to 30, and we achieved that.”
Plummer said that it was a hard process, but she was happy with the team’s development.
“It’s always going to be small steps, because I am not with them all the time – England, for instance, have had a number of training camps, whereas we have had one. But we are making progress and the other teams know they have to take us seriously.”
Msomi said the players had got over being overawed when they played the top teams.
“We played the England Under21 team this morning. Everyone had a go on court and we played every possible combination. I think it went well, and we were very pleased because we won. Now we can work on ironing out the mistakes we made. What we need now is to focus on being consistent,” said Msomi.
The Australian Diamonds play the New Zealand Silver Ferns at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and the SPAR Proteas take on the England Roses at 5pm. On Tuesday, January 31, the SPAR Proteas play the Diamonds at 7pm.
Tickets for the matches are available from Computicket, with prices ranging from R20 to R200 for VIP seating. Tournament combination packages are available at very competitive prices.
(Photos by Reg Caldecott)