Despite the SPAR Proteas leading at every break and being the dominant side throughout against England in their final Quad Series game, South Africa could not finish off and the English Roses beat the Proteas 45-42 in a netball thriller played in Melbourne on Sunday.

The SPAR Proteas made a confident start with Rome Dreyer taking the first centre-pass and the Proteas quickly getting the ball to Maryka Holtzhausen who opened the scoring. Despite England applying defensive pressure on South Africa, South Africa in the first quarter created plenty of opportunities and took the lead three times. Each team had 9 interceptions in that first quarter, a unusually high amount for teams ranked in the world’s top five. At the end the first quarter, South Africa led England 13-11.

In the second quarter, England made four changes with Coach Norma Plummer opted to keep her same starting line-up. Both teams kept neck to neck and three minutes into the quarter the score was level at 13-13. Despite the SPAR Proteas having 62% possession compared to England’s 38% the South African’s were the hardest working team on court making many passes in working the ball down court. With seven minutes remaining in the quarter, South Africa took a 4 goal 17-13 lead. The South African shooters Lenize Potgieter and Holtzhausen were on target, especially impressive was Holtzhausen considering she only had a 63% series average going into the game. It was also clear that star English player Geva Mentor was struggling in the circle with the strength of body of Potgieter. With three minutes remaining in the quarter South Africa lead 23-17. South Africa won the quarter 14-8 and went into the halftime break leading England by seven goals 27-20.

At the break SPAR Proteas captain Bongi Msomi said that there was a positive energy in the South African camp. “We started the game on a real positive note and we need to carry that positivity into the second half. We can wait for the second half. We have most of the possession and are making the most of every opportunity.”

The South African defence was definitely shutting down the English shooters in the first half of the game and the Proteas were being rewarded for being patient with the ball. Potgieter also had not missed a goal.

But England, a strong side, ranked two in the world, returned to court after the half time break firing all cylinders. The Commonwealth Games gold medallists were on a mission and came hard at South Africa. So hard that SPAR Proteas captain and vice-captain Bongi Msomi and Karla Pretorius had words with the umpire on the late and hard challenges being made by Serena Guthrie.

South Africa made a shaky start to the second half with Potgieter and Holtzhausen going off the boil and missing at goal. England took a 3-1 lead early in the third quarter intercepting at every opportunity. Of the first 10 goals scored in the third quarter, only 3 were scored by South Africa. Coach Norma Plummer 8 minutes into the quarter made her first change replacing Holtzhausen with Danelle Lochner. The third quarter dominance by England was paying dividends. Another change was made by Norma Plummer taking off Rome Dreyer and bringing on Khanyisa Chawane. But in a matter of 12 minutes, the 7 goal lead the SPAR Proteas had massed was eaten up by England and it seemed that the SPAR Protea structure was breaking down. With 1 minute remaining in the third quarter South Africa and England were level at 32-32 but some smart pick-up play by Phumza Maweni and excellent passing by Msomi and Pretorius got the ball down court and into the circle and Lochner netted to give the SPAR Proteas the 33-32 lead going into the final break.

In the final quarter it was game on and both teams were level at 41-41 with four minutes left on the clock. England then took the lead for the first time since the first quarter and finally beat South Africa 45-42. Credit to England for making a 11 goal turnaround to clinch victory.

The SPAR Proteas game shooting average was a disappointing 79% compared to the 85% of England. But the South African defence certainly made life difficult for the English shooters and should be credited for their efforts.

Bongi Msomi said despite the loss she was pleased with her teams efforts. “Taking into account we have new unexperienced caps in our team and are missing some experienced players due to injury the SPAR Proteas showed guts. We also know we have depth in our team which lends well for the future. We should have finished the game off but credit to England for making the comeback they did. Now the SPAR Proteas need to work on consistency to prevent losses like this.”

Norma Plummer said she was extremely disappointed following the loss. “We had that game. I was extremely disappointed in our attacking and shooters not going to the post after half time. We certainly had England having to change up their whole game. I thought our defence head was absolutely outstanding and credit to Rome Dreyer who did a very good job. I had to take Rome off to give her a break because the fitness levels at this level are on another level and I needed to give her that break in-between. Shadine van Der Merwe and Karla Pretorius were also outstanding. We actually had that game so yes we very disappointed. We let England in the door. England had to change up their whole team to get across the line which is a feather in the SPAR Proteas cap. Just sad it’s another loss we let slip.”