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Three-time champions, the Free State Crinums, got their Telkom Netball League campaign off to a winning start with a 49-41 victory over the North West Flames at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall on Saturday.

The Free State side finished fourth last year after losing out in overtime to the Flames in the third-place playoff. But that was a distant memory as they took to the court this year with a new team and new ambitions.

The Flames started well, clearly benefitting from having played their first game on Friday. They raced to a 15-9 lead by the first break. That margin could have been even larger margin were it not for several impossible passes to goal shooter Chanté Louw, playing for the Flames this year after helping the Jaguars to the title in 2018.

After several changes, the Crinums found their stride however, and got to work closing the gap in the second quarter. They levelled matters at 17-all and then it was neck and neck all the way to half time, the teams exchanging the lead several times to reach the break all square on 24-24.

The remainder of the match saw the Free State side taking control, and they reached the final break 39-32 up, then edging even further ahead to eventually win by eight goals.

“We started a bit slow but that’s a big match story because it was our first match and we didn’t know what to expect,” admitted Crinums coach Burta de Kock after the game. “We made seven substitutions after that first quarter and thank God for 12 brilliant players who can play in a variety of positions.”

Captain and player of the match Lefébre Rademan added: “I’m very proud of the team. It was a bit of a slow start. I think it was a bit of nerves but when we found our rhythm, we started finding each other. As soon as we found that rhythm and spark, then it went well. It’s a good win and a good confidence-booster.”

As for the prospect of regaining the title they last won in 2016, Rademan added: “We are very confident we can get it back.”

Later in the day, the Gauteng Jaguars, bounced back from a shock opening loss in style, beating their provincial counterparts, the Golden Fireballs, 64-42 to register their first points of the competition. The win was never in doubt with the two-time defending champions already 13 goals ahead at half time on 33-20, and then steadily building on that to win by 22 goals – the largest winning margin of the tournament so far.

“I think after yesterday’s loss we just got our focus back and knew that the competition wasn’t over yet. It’s only the beginning so today was a good day,” said player of the match Chrisna van Zyl.

“I don’t really want to talk about yesterday. There was a lot of stuff that happened, but today’s a new day. Personally I approached it a bit differently and it was fun – and player of the match was a bonus.

“That margin also gives us a lot of confidence but every game is a new game so we’ll go back and look at our game plan for the next one. We still need to work on our attack and working the right lines and to convert the balls that we turn,” added the goal shooter.

Meanwhile, the SPAR Smileys, a team made up of SA-based Proteas squad members, took to the court for their first game. They are using the tournament to gain valuable court time ahead of the final announcement of the SPAR Proteas team for the Netball World Cup in July. As such, their matches do not count towards the overall league competition.

After a slowish start against the Western Cape Southern Stings, who recorded a stunning opening win over the Jaguars on Friday, they finished the first quarter 13-10 up. The experience and slick handling skills started to show in the second, however, and while both teams were testing different combinations, it was the Smileys who continued to grow their lead, reaching half time 31-23 up. They continued to extend that lead, eventually cruising to a 56-39 win.

“For me it was about being able to get everyone to play and trying out certain combinations,” said Smileys coach and Proteas assistant coach Dorette Badenhorst afterwards.

“It was maybe a slow start but I believe it will just get better and better the more they get to play together. I think it was a gutsy performance. There’s still a lot of hard work. There are still a lot of things we need to improve on in the next four weeks.

“I think Renske (Stoltz) did very well. She shot really well and Lentsa Motau also came on and made a real difference on wing defence but the others will need to work a bit on communication on court and on the rhythm still.”

Earlier the Eastern Cape Aloes claimed their first win of the tournament, in division two, with a 60-40 victory over the Northern Cape Diamonds.

The Diamonds failed to win a match in the league last year and their struggles continued in their first game of this year’s tournament.

“I won’t mind coaching a team that wins by 20 goals every time. I would age far more gracefully,” joked Aloes coach Lana Krige, who took some strain during her team’s draw with the KZN Kingdom Stars on Friday. “It was a lekker performance and I got to run all 12 which is great. It’s nice to be able to play new combinations, not under pressure.”

Telkom Netball League

Results – 11 May 2019 – Round 1

Division 1

Free State Crinums beat North West Flames 49-41

SPAR Smileys beat Western Cape Southern Stings 56-39

Gauteng Jaguars beat the Gauteng Golden Fireballs 64-42

Division 2

Eastern Cape Aloes beat Northern Cape Diamonds 60-40