The Gauteng Jaguars stormed through the opening weekend of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League unbeaten and look as dominant as ever, pulling off a 51-43 win over the Southern Stings at Ellis Park Arena on Sunday.
As predicted the much-anticipated showdown between the two sides started out as a closely fought clash. The teams were neck and neck in the first quarter, exchanging the lead on numerous occasions and reaching the first break with just one goal in it – the Stings leading 11-10 at that point.
The team from the Western Cape held onto that one-goal advantage heading into half time 26-25 up. That’s when a new game plan from the Jaguars kicked into gear and it showed on the scoreboard with the defending champions finishing a quarter ahead for the first time at the end of the third, on 37-34.
Four unanswered goals at the start of the fourth meant the Jaguars opened up that small gap significantly before the Stings could respond. It seemed there was no coming back from that, with the Jaguars increasing their advantage to eventually win it by eight goals.
“We changed our plan after halfway through. Our first game plan sucked,” admitted Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk after the game. “We tried something and it didn’t work and so we had to change it. The girls were quick to adapt and it worked well. It was quite a tough match so I’m pleased with the performance.”
Speaking about the 2017 champions’ confidence levels following a successful weekend, Van Dyk added: “It’s fantastic but that can also lead to becoming complacent and a bit too relaxed so we’ll definitely go back and analyse everything we’ve done and work on the areas that weren’t so great.”
Stings coach Annelie Lucas reckoned: “We couldn’t keep up our intensity. It was a very physical game so the girls just got beaten on the body, and the bodies got tired so they couldn’t keep up with it.”
Meanwhile, the North West Flames claimed their first win of the weekend. Last year’s runners-up bounced back from a loss to the Stings on Saturday, with a 61-39 victory over the Limpopo Baobabs. Having struggled on Saturday, young goal shooter Claudia van der Berg had a much better time of it, slotting in some great goals in the first quarter which meant her side led 17-11 at the break.
Quarters two and three were good ones for the Baobabs, and while they trailed throughout, they never let the Flames run away with it. There was a two-goal difference in the second and four in the third, but it was the final period that let them down. That’s when the Flames asserted their dominance to open up their lead and win with ease.
“That was much better,” said a relieved Flames coach, Elsje Jordaan, afterwards, explaining her key wing attack Kgomotso Itlhabanyeng had recovered enough from flu to make a big difference. “I think the rhythm overall was much better on attack.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play all 12 throughout the weekend which is good for a squad, getting those youngsters out. For some of them it’s the first time playing on a sprung floor so it’s all about exposure and building. I’m more happy than last night, definitely.”
Baobabs coach Jenny-Lee Delport said: “Yesterday I kept a lot of players on court and then made the big change at half time and that didn’t work, so this time I tried to change more often but that didn’t work either, so there’s a lot of work to do on when to make the changes to see which players are ready when.
“Other than that, the play looked good. It was fun to see my players play so well against ex-Protea players like Vanes-Mari du Toit and one of the Protea coaches [Jordaan]. I think the players realised for the first time in a while that they can actually do this. We’ve got the ability, we just need to work on the fitness.”
In the final game of the opening round, the Eastern Cape Aloes slumped to their second loss of the weekend, while the Gauteng Fireballs claimed their second victory. The Fireballs, who finished in third spot last year under coach Jordaan’s guidance, dominated from start to finish to eventually take it 53-28.
“I think the difference for us was playing the ball instead of playing the man and losing focus,” said Fireballs coach Dorette Badenhorst. “The Aloes are a very physical team and you need to make sure that you work from them. They’re a difficult team to play, but I think our shots were good. Talja [Venter] played really well. Her goal average was very high so that was the difference.”
Badenhorst believes there’s still plenty of room for improvement however. “It was a good weekend for us. It’s always important to beat these teams because at the end of the day you want to qualify, but it wasn’t a great performance. Some of the quarters we really played well in both of our games but we struggled with certain combinations and we still need to keep possession. We are turning a lot of balls so I’m happy on defence but there are a few things we still need to change.”
Aloes coach Des Neville said: “We were hoping our players would have settled after yesterday’s game and some of the combinations did come through quite strongly today.
“We tried a few new things and some of those did pay off but it’s just a matter of trying to keep that going for the whole game. We’ve got pockets of brilliance, but too many lulls and too many lows so if we can sort that out, I think we’ll go forward from here.”