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The final of the Telkom Netball League, between the Gauteng Jaguars and the Southern Stings should be a thriller, after two intense and closely fought semifinal matches. The Gauteng Jaguars squeaked into the final by beating the Free State Crinums 49-48 at the Pretoria University Sports Centre on Friday.  The Crinums led 23-22 at halftime.

The Jaguars have played in every final since the start of the Netball League in 2014. The match was a ding-dong affair between two of the teams that have dominated the Netball League over the years.  Neither side was able to gain the upper hand, with first one then the other taking the lead.

Throughout much of the match, goals went with centre pass and there was never more than a five-goal difference between the teams. The Crinums took the early lead in the first quarter, but the Jaguars came back to lead 13-9 at the end of the quarter.

In the second quarter, the Jaguars appeared to be cruising to victory until the Crinums started to get back into the match as a result of some handling mistakes by the Jaguars.  With three minutes to go before halftime, the Crinums drew level on 20-all and then took the lead.

Both sides achieved some dazzling intercepts and the defenders on both sides made use of every opportunity to turn the ball.  Tanya von Burg (formerly Mostert) appeared to relish her new role as centre rather than goal defence and did an excellent job of feeding the ball into the Crinums’ circle.

There was nothing in it in the third quarter, although the match became very physical and at times resembled a rugby match, with players sprawled on the floor. The Crinums ended the quarter with a lead of 36 goals to 34.

At the beginning of the final quarter, the Crinums scored a flurry of unanswered goals, giving them a five-goal lead.  It appeared that the Jaguars were heading for their first semi-final defeat, but they responded with three goals on the trot as they clawed their way back.  With six minutes to go, the Jaguars drew level on 43-all.  In the final minutes of play, the Jaguars appeared calmer and more disciplined than their opponents. They drew level again on 47-all and then went into the lead.   There was another goal each, the final whistle went and the Jaguars had secured another final berth.

Coach Jenny van Dyk said she had been very nervous.

“I knew they were under-delivering for much of the match,” she said.

“We made it by the skin of our teeth and there is a lot to be done before the final tomorrow,” said Van Dyk.

The second semifinal, between the North West Flames and the Southern Stings, was equally tense, with the lead changing throughout the game. The Stings won 49-47. The teams were level on 14-all after the first quarter. At halftime, the Stings had a narrow 25-24 lead.

At one stage, the Flames goal defence turned the ball in the Stings’ circle, leading to a row of four consecutive goals for the Flames, but the Stings came back with a flurry of goals of their own.

After the third quarter, the Flames had a four-goal lead (39-35). 

The pace picked up even more in the final quarter.  The defenders on both teams were excellent, with the ball being turned in the circle on numerous occasions.  With nine minutes to go, the teams were level on 43-all. The Stings edged ahead (47-45) with four minutes to go.

“I think my players were very hungry for a win,” said Stings coach Annelie Lucas. 

“They kept their nerve under pressure and when needed, they dug deep.”

“I am very disappointed.  We missed too many shots at goal on our centre pass,” said Jordaan.

“I felt we were in control for much of the match, but at this level, you can’t make mistakes at crucial times. The players are hugely disappointed but they have always said we win as a team and we lose as a team.  Nobody is to blame.”