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The Gauteng Jaguars could not have sounded a louder warning to their challengers as they got the defence of their Brutal Fruit Premier Netball League title off to a successful start at the Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg today.

They may have been taking on the team that finished bottom of the pile last year, the Northern Cape Diamonds, but they still looked in sensational form as they powered to an 81-12 win. The Jaguars stormed to a 7-0 lead before the Diamonds could even get on the scoreboard and this set the tone for the remainder of the match.

The team from the Northern Cape simply battled to match the pace at which the defending champions were operating. They reached the half time break 30 goals behind and it got worse from there as some strong defence from the Jaguars meant the Diamonds could score only twice in the third quarter and once in the final 15 minutes.

“We set some goals for the match so I did expect them to perform even if it was a weaker match,” explained Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk. “Sometimes it’s difficult to perform in those matches so it was important because the ball can get slowed down so much that you end up wasting valuable time, but it was still a good performance.

“We are very confident of defending the title. We wouldn’t just come here to take a second or third place. We want to win this and that’s what we’re working towards,” she added.

Diamonds coach Elfreda Luyt admitted: “Our girls tried hard and I was just hoping they could get more than 20 – that would be fine against that team, but it was very hard for our players because they were playing against a champion team.”

Meanwhile, in what turned out to be the tightest game of the day so far, the Limpopo Baobabs sprung a surprise by surging to a 15-12 lead after their first quarter against three-time champions, the Free State Crinums.

The Crinums came back in the second to level matters at 16-all but the Baobabs were still very much in it by half-time, heading into the break with the Free Staters 30-27 ahead. It was the third quarter that really lost it for the Limpopo team, however, as they could only manage eight goals to the Crinums’ 22. And despite a tight final quarter, the damage has been done, with the Free Staters winning it 68-46.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, maybe four times these past two months and then we were going up against a team that trains more than four times a week,” said Baobabs coach Jenny-Lee Delport after the match, explaining that the substitutions she’d had to make in the third quarter to give her starting players a break were what cost them.

“It’s like you can’t compare apples with bananas, but it just shows you these players are very coachable, they’ve got what it takes. It was evident to me in the first two quarters that my players have the ability and skills. I’m happy with the performance in the first, second and fourth quarters, disappointed in the third – I want to say I’m disappointed but I’m actually so proud.”

Earlier in the day, the Kingdom Stars notched up their second win of the opening weekend’s action with a 54-30 victory over the Eastern Cape Aloes.

Having played their opener on Friday night, it was clear from the start that the KZN side already had a game under their belts, with much slicker passing and effective teamwork than their opponents from the Eastern Cape. By the end of the first quarter, they had already built a 13-7 lead.

The Stars stretched their lead even further, eventually scoring 20 goals to the Aloes’ eight, to reach half time 33-15 ahead, and they extended that even further in the third. Despite producing a closer final 15 minutes which ended level, (10-10) by the time they reached the final whistle, the Aloes found themselves 24 goals behind the team that finished one place below them in last year’s final standings.

“I’ll never put away the Aloes. We did it last year where we were up the first quarter and then the Aloes took the game, so we never allowed them to actually come back at us,” said Kingdom Stars coach Madri Maritz afterwards. “We tried to build every single quarter, stay calm, play our game and just keep on going.

Aloes coach Des Neville said: “I really can’t fault my players on drive and really wanting to do well. I think they got a big shock today – thinking we had this and we didn’t. So we have to clean up in the two ends in particular in the circle, but I also felt that we were struggling to get the ball through the centre court so we really need to look at tightening those things. We can only go forward from here. I don’t think it can be this bad again.”

Netball action continues into the evening with the Southern Stings set to take on last year’s runners-up, the North West Flames, and Gauteng’s Golden Fireballs facing the Mpumalanga Sunbirds.