Pretoria, South Africa - South Africa opened their campaign with an unconvincing 55-26 victory over Botswana at the inaugural Netball Diamond Challenge in Pretoria on Wednesday.
The SPAR Proteas took an early lead, going five goals ahead before Botswana settled into the game.
When goal shooter Chrisna Bootha left the court injured, debutant Melissa Myburgh took her place and kept the momentum going, with the hosts outscoring Botswana by 14 goals to five at the end of the first quarter. South Africa led 30-9 at half-time but their performance lacked fire and pace.
National coach Elize Kotze made several changes to the team for the third quarter, giving all her players a run. The changes disturbed the rhythm of the team but the Proteas still managed to outscore Botswana by 14 goals to six, ending the third quarter on 44-15.
Botswana upped their game in the last quarter, with their goal attack, Thumisang Bagidi, worrying the Proteas’ defence. Dominating possession for the first time in the match, Botswana matched South Africa goal-for-goal in the last quarter, scoring 11 points apiece. The final score of 55-26 was not a true reflection of the game and South Africa will need to improve their performance if they hope to win the tournament.
“I’m happy about the win but not really happy about the performance,” said Kotze after the game. “Our defence was excellent during the first two quarters but tonight was the only opportunity I had to give the whole bench a chance. “From the third quarter, our whole defence was out of sync and also bringing Nosi (Goda) up as centre disturbed their rhythm.” Kotze said it was clear the team lacked trust when they had to release the ball quickly and it was one of the things they would sort out before their next game. “We will get the team back for some strategic training tomorrow morning,” she said.
“Nothing strenuous but we need to work on our focus and strategy.”
Kotze said Bootha had been suffering from flu and had struggled to breathe on the court. “It was a risk playing her tonight and she definitely won’t play tomorrow,” Kotze said. “Melissa is very young and I’d hoped to introduce her slowly so tonight was quicker than we all anticipated. “She stood her ground though and I do believe she has a great future.”
Botswana captain Kagisano Mawela said her team had started on a very low note but grew in confidence as the match progressed. “I don’t know if the girls were scared of the crowd or what, but we started very badly,” Mawela said. “We came back strongly in the second half after the coach had a chat to us at half-time. “We’re very disappointed but we hope to re-focus and come back fighting against Malawi tomorrow.”
Earlier, Malawi thrashed Zambia 75-32 showing why they wear the crown in Africa with a fast and furious display.
South Africa play Zambia and Malawi face Botswana at the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria on Thursday. – Sapa, Jenny Bernstein