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The Southern Stings produced one of the finest defensive efforts of the opening weekend of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League to defeat last year’s runners up, the North West Flames, 53-37 at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg this afternoon.

After a series of fairly large winning margins in matches earlier in the day and on the opening night on Friday, it seemed this might be the match that might deliver the tightest contest of the day. That certainly proved to be the case in the opening quarter as the teams swapped the lead and reached the break just one goal apart – 11-10 in the Stings’ favour. It was still fairly even as the teams went to half time four goals apart on 27-23 to the team from the Western Cape.

But that’s as close as it got in the end, with the Flames struggling in the circle and squandering numerous scoring opportunities, while the Stings impressed on both defence and their basic skills. It was a slick team performance all-round and saw the Stings surging ahead to win it by 16 goals at the final whistle.

“We did expect a closer game. We know the type of players they have and we know that Elsje [Jordaan] in a very good coach,” admitted Stings coach Annelie Lucas afterwards.

“At the beginning of the game we were too loose so we played into their hands, but when we tightened up the game, eventually it went out way. Our defence was on par tonight. They were sharp and I know Helene [Steyn] got the player of the match, but I think Stephanie Brandt, our keeper, also really outdid herself. Her timing was on and she just turned the ball for us there. If you have tight defence, then it’s easy.”

Flames coach Jordaan explained that an injury to their number one shooter had caused the team’s scoring woes. “Our attack is a brand new combination and it showed, and obviously if you don’t convert, you can’t win.  I’m not happy with the shooting effort at all. But I’m quite happy that now we know what we need to work on. And we’ll be back hopefully.”

In the final match of the day, the Mpumalanga Sunbirds sank to their second defeat in as many days with a 44-25 loss to the Gauteng Fireballs. It was always going to be a tough task for the team that finished second last in 2017, coming up against the third-placed Gauteng side, and they struggled to match the skill from the better-drilled team.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, 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.

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 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. “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.

In other action, 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 had been done, with the Free State side winning it 68-46.

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.

“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.”

This year’s Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League was officially opened with a special ceremony on Saturday afternoon attended by South Africa’s Minister of Sport Tokozile Xasa, President of Netball South Africa Cecilia Molokwane, MMC Community Development for the City of Jo’burg – Nonhlanhla Sifumba and other netball dignitaries.