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Johannesburg, South Africa: With less than 18 months to go to the Netball World Cup in Cape Town next year, there is growing excitement about the SPAR Proteas national team.

After two years in which international netball was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, World Netball has announced the latest world rankings. South Africa have retained fifth place. Uganda are ranked sixth and Malawi, for a long time South Africa’s nemesis, are ranked seventh.

Australia retained their number one ranking but the world champions, New Zealand, have narrowed the gap to just five points. The reigning Commonwealth Games champions, England, are in third position, followed by Jamaica in fourth place.

The first change in rankings positions is in eighth place, where Wales moved up one place, with the biggest points gain by any team.

The 12 top-ranked countries will play in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this year.

Zimbabwe are ranked 13th and will not play in the Commonwealth Games.

South Africa played the most matches in the period under review, playing 54 matches.  The SPAR Proteas were dominant in Africa, winning all their matches, but finished fourth in the Quad series in England, where they played against Australia, New Zealand and England.

SPAR national coach Dorette Badenhorst is excited about the year ahead.

“For the first time, we are less than 20 points behind Jamaica on the world rankings, which is very encouraging,” said Badenhorst.

“We have played a lot of netball, despite the pandemic. We had a Test series against Malawi in 2020, and then we played a Test series against Uganda in Cape Town.  We travelled to Northern Ireland, but those weren’t ranking matches.

“And then of course, we played in the African Cup of Nations in Namibia, which we won.”

Badenhorst said there would be a number of mini weekend training camps as well as a full training camp at Easter, ahead of the Telkom Netball League, which gets under way in May.

“Our overseas players will be back in June and we will have another training camp.  England are coming out in June for practice matches in Cape Town.  They will be without their Suncorp players, but will have their English League players,” said Badenhorst.

“After that, we travel to the United Kingdom for practice matches ahead of the Commonwealth Games.  We have approached Wales to play a couple of warm-up matches and we also plan to play against England.”

Badenhorst said there was a good spirit among the players, who were excited about the year ahead.

“It will be a busy year and then of course, we start preparing for a home World Cup in 2023.”

Picture Credit: Ben Lumley