The SPAR Proteas are under no illusions just how fierce and intense the historic first test of the inaugural Netball Quad Series against world champions the Australian Diamonds this Saturday will be.
And experienced centre Erin Burger can vouch for how much effort will be required to keep pace with the super-quick Australians – after tracking her exertion in a training match earlier this week.
Burger – with 85 tests, the most capped player in the SPAR Proteas team preparing for Saturday’s opening international in Auckland – wore a GPS tracking device during the team’s training clash with New Zealand A and was startled by the results.
When she played in the recent SPAR national championships, she ran around 3km in distance per game. But against the New Zealand side, she clocked up around 9km in the three quarters that she was on court.
“It was something I was interested in finding out – just how fit I am, and how I could better that,” says Burger, who was the player of the tournament at the 2011 World Championships in Singapore.
“And it’s very interesting that it revealed exactly what we lack – the intensity in our game. We are used to training long, but not that intense.”
But that’s something Burger believes is now changing under the coaching regime of highly-experienced coach Norma Plummer. “We’ve learned a lot from Norma and Nicole [Cusack, the co-coach]. Just listening to someone who has been there, and who has lived it. They walk the walk,” she says.
“The SPAR Proteas are used to labouring and working hard, but now it’s about working effectively. If we can be more effective, we will be competitive.”
Plummer, who previously coached Australia to two world championship titles, says the results from Burger’s experiment highlighted the furious pace that top international netball is played at, and how the SPAR Proteas will have to give a sustained effort for 60 minutes to handle that.
“We’re not running around with rose-coloured glasses – we know we have a lot of work to do. But we are moving along well now, and the girls are starting to understand what it’s going to take. We’ve got the athletes and the talent; we just need the opportunities.”
The SANZEA Netball Quad Series kicks off at Auckland’s Vector Arena on Saturday with four of the world’s best netballing nations – Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa – facing off in a blockbuster doubleheader.
Playing the world No. 1 team first up is going to be challenging for the new-look SPAR Proteas side, Plummer concedes.
“The Diamonds’ sheer defensive pressure all through the court will be really tough. And they have probably the two best shooters in the world at the moment. They may have new players in the side, but there is so much depth in Australian netball,” she says.
“We’re not kidding ourselves, but we are hoping that we will be able to lower the score difference. It’s about little steps and I think we will be able to see a difference.”
The SPAR Proteas are thrilled with the opportunity to play in this inaugural international series, which has been five years in the planning.
Netball SA chief executive Blanche de la Guerre says the intensity of the Netball Quad Series is invaluable for South African netball.
“Our players don’t have that kind of competition back at home,” she says, “and I think with exposure to this level of competition, it will eventually put us back into the top three netball nations in the world.”