The SPAR Proteas coasted to a winning start at the Diamond Challenge in Polokwane this afternoon, beating neighbours Namibia 78-28 in the six-team netball tournament opener at the Ngoako Ramatlhodi Sports Complex.

It was always going to be a tough start for the Namibians, who have failed to beat South Africa in nine previous encounters and are ranked 23 places below them in the world. While the visitors managed to hold their own in the opening minutes, the home team had opened up an 11-goal lead by the first break.

The slick-looking SPAR Proteas extended that gap to 29 goals by half time, which was reached on 38-9. Coach Norma Plummer then took the opportunity to ring in the changes in the second half, making sure all 12 of her players had plenty of time on court. The South Africans continued to dominate to claim the 50-goal win. It was not their largest winning margin over the Namibians, however. That came back in 2002, when the Proteas beat them by 68 goals. Interestingly, they also scored 78 goals in that game.

Meanwhile, apart from the convincing win there was more cause for celebration in the SA camp, with goal attack Maryka Holtzhausen earning her 100th cap for the team. It was a particularly significant venue for reaching the milestone, considering the 31-year-old made her debut in the Limpopo city 11 years ago and hasn’t played there in national colours since. She is just the second SPAR

Proteas player to reach the century mark, after teammate and good friend Erin Burger (109), who played the first quarter of today’s match.

“I don’t think it’s that different from when I played my first game at the same venue all those years back,” she admitted afterwards. “The nerves before the game never go away, but I’m relieved it’s over. There was a lot of hype before the time and now I can actually say I’m a 100-capped player. I never thought I would have 100 caps for South Africa, but playing at the same venue where I started, it’s amazing. It’s a very special day for me and my teammates have made it even more special. I really appreciate it.”

SPAR Proteas captain Bongi Msomi was pleased with her team’s first outing, saying: “We felt good. There are quite a few things we still want to work on, but it was just great to step out on court as a team again and get some great passages of play.

“It was a good start but obviously we are never satisfied so we’d like to keep getting better from here.

“Everyone had time on court and it was pretty amazing – they all did really well, so I think that’s a great take out of this game.”

As for the impressively vocal home crowd, Msomi added: “It’s just awesome seeing them getting so excited and involved in the game and hopefully we’ll get even bigger numbers towards the end of the week.”

In other opening day Diamond League action, the second match of the day, between Zimbabwe and Botswana, was a much tighter one than the first. There were just two goals separating the teams at half time, but the Zimbabweans then surged ahead to claim a 43-30 win.

Despite the win, Zim coach Lloyd Makunde wasn’t particularly happy with his players. “They didn’t play well. There were a lot of mistakes. Our passing was pathetic today, so we’ll go back to the drawing board with a training session in the morning to try to rectify that.”

In a thrilling finale to the opening day, the other South African team in the tournament, the President’s XII went head to head with Zambia. The home team, packed with up-and-coming young stars, were just a step behind the Zambians in the first two quarters but a phenomenal effort in the third saw them taking the lead and eventually finishing as 48-46 winners.

 

DIAMOND CHALLENGE DAY 1 RESULTS:

SPAR Proteas beat Namibia 78-28

Zimbabwe beat Botswana 43-30

President’s XII beat Zambia 48-46