A dramatic final minute saw the South Africa SPAR Proteas hold on to a vital two-goal win over the Vitality Roses which leaves the Vitality Netball International Series level going into the final game tomorrow.
After a dominant first half, the SPAR Proteas stormed into an eight-goal lead in the third quarter.
The Vitality Roses, forced into several changes during the game, including losing Imogen Allison at centre during the middle of the game, fought their way back and levelled the score deep into the fourth quarter.
But with just under two minutes to play, SPAR Proteas defender Karla Pretorius picked off a vital tip which allowed the visitors to take a two-goal lead right before the buzzer.
Head Coach Jess Thirlby made just one change to the team that started in the win on Tuesday bringing Berri Neil in for Sasha Glasgow. The 20-year-old, making her first home start, got the Vitality Roses off the mark, putting up her first of eight goals in the quarter. Despite an encouraging second half in the first test, SPAR Proteas Head Coach Norma Plummer made four changes to her side, bringing a flux of energy into the starting seven with Nichola Smith, Refiloe Nketsa, Kamogelo Maseko and Rolene Streutker. And it was the visitors who started stronger, moving the ball with pace through the court with Khanyisa Chawane orchestrating their attacking play with quick give-and-gos in the middle of the court. With five minutes left to go in the quarter, Halimat Adio was penalised for persistent contact and received a caution. Soon after this, South Africa capitalised, taking the lead for the first time with a minute to go. But just before the buzzer, an unforced error from the SPAR Proteas defence allowed Eleanor Cardwell to put up the leveller.
One change apiece at the break saw Ellie Rattu come on for the penalised Adio whilst Phumza Maweni was introduced for Smith. The visitors continued where they left off in the first quarter, moving the ball with pace to keep England at arm’s length. Midway through the quarter, Imogen Allison was forced off after falling to the floor with a knock to the side. She was swiftly replaced by Alicia Scholes. Despite good interceptions from Fran Williams and Ellie Rattu, the Vitality Roses were unable to capitalise and were pressured into throwing away the ball as they neared the shooting circle. Streutker, starting her first match of the series in place of Ine-Mari Venter, put in a fantastic first half and scored 15 from 15 in the second quarter which helped to give the SPAR Proteas a four-goal lead at the break.
Further changes from the Vitality Roses bench followed after the halftime break as Jayda Pechova was brought on at goal keeper with Williams moving to goal defence and Fadoju returning at wing defence. Rattu moved up to centre and Scholes moved up to wing attack as Jess Thirlby adapted a new line-up for the second half. With a number of new combinations on the court, England struggled to find connections in attack early on, giving away a couple of loose feeds which led to the SPAR Proteas increasing their advantage to eight. With just under five minutes to play, Sasha Glasgow was brought on in place of Neil as England rotated the circle, presenting their opponents with a new challenge. England’s momentum continued to build as Fran Williams drove out from the defensive third to make a key tip before the SPAR Proteas were penalised soon after for breaking on their centre pass. Despite the late pressure, South Africa had managed to stretch their advantage to five over the quarter going into the final 15 minutes.
After a period on the sideline, Allison returned to the centre of the court for the Vitality Roses as the home side were roared back onto the court by a vibrant Nottingham crowd. The hosts responded to the support immediately, putting pressure on South Africa and forcing their midcourt into errors which Glasgow and Cardwell capitalised on to help bring England level in a matter of minutes. Norma Plummer rose to her feet and turned to the bench, enlisting captain Bongiwe Msomi in place of Nketsa to add some stability to the SPAR Proteas’ core. A misplaced pass from Maseko to Chawane allowed England to hit back as Cardwell, who shot at 97% across the game, fired England into the lead for the first time since the first quarter. But South Africa came back and, after Player of the Match Rolene Streutker levelled, Pretorius picked off a vital tip on the edge of the circle to bring the SPAR Proteas back onto their centre pass. Maseko put up the shot that doubled their lead as South Africa held on to take the win 61-59 and level the series going into the final game on Sunday.
Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby commented: “I thought to go back out in quarter four and start it as we did tells me a lot about the capacity and potential that this group have got. To show that grit and to at least afford ourselves the chance to get the win having not led for most of the game, I think is a really great sign.
“It goes without saying that we’re going to be disappointed. Losing should hurt. But I think we also have to remember to catch ourselves in understanding where we are at the minute. South Africa introduced some new talent and I thought they were brilliant today. I thought they gave us a few headaches, which I thought we dealt well with. I saw improvement from Tuesday to today and we said that that might still not be enough.”
Captain Fran Williams reflected on the younger players coming through: “I think people are stepping up to the plate and owning those opportunities and that’s really exciting to see. Games like that which are close and goal-for-goal at the end are great to experience but we also want to win. We know we’re good enough to beat this team and I think it sets up for a really competitive match tomorrow.”
Eleanor Cardwell added: “I think we were good in patches. We certainly improved in certain areas we wanted to build on from Tuesday but we just lacked the consistency. We need to continue to do all the good stuff we did today and maintain that throughout the whole game.”
Vitality Roses starting seven: Halimat Adio (GK), Fran Williams (GD), Funmi Fadoju (WD), Imogen Allison (C), Hannah Joseph (WA), Berri Neil (GA), Eleanor Cardwell (GS)
Substitutes: Sasha Glasgow, Jayda Pechova, Ellie Rattu, Alicia Scholes, Olivia Tchine
South Africa starting seven: Nichola Smith (GK), Karla Pretorius (GD), Jeante Strydom (WD), Refiloe Nketsa (C), Khanyisa Chawane (WA), Kamogelo Maseko (GA), Rolene Streutker (GS)
Substitutes: Boitumelo Mahloko, Phumza Maweni, Bongiwe Msomi, Owethu Ngubane, Nichole Taljaard