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The Western Cape Southern Stings pulled off a stunning upset by beating two-time defending champions, the Gauteng Jaguars, on the opening day of the Telkom Netball League at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall.

The 43-42 victory for the Stings brought the Jaguars’ 18-game unbeaten streak to an abrupt end.

The two sides met in the final of last year’s league and showed their fierce rivalry was alive and well with a closely contested match.

The Jaguars struck first and some missed chances for the Stings meant the Gauteng side could open up a gap of 12-9 by the first break. It seemed it was business as usual as they had extended that lead to seven goals by half time, which was reached on 26-19. But an inspired third quarter from the Western Cape side saw them clawing their way back into contention as they outscored their lauded opponents 13 goals to nine.

By the fourth quarter they had closed the gap and took the lead for the first time at 36-35. Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk called two strategic time-outs within minutes of each other to try and bring some composure to her team, who were beginning to flounder. But they could not stop the Stings from sneaking ahead for the thrilling one-goal win.

“I told the girls this year it’s going to be a team effort and I need all 12 of them to buy in and work as a group and that’s what they did so we’re very happy,” said a beaming Stings coach Annelie Lucas afterwards.

“We said that we’re going to come into this weekend and just enjoy the netball. And then I challenged them and said let’s put some pressure on the other teams and see how they accept the challenge and the girls stepped up. I think they just wanted to show that we struggled against the Jaguars for two seasons, so now we’re breaking that and that’s amazing for us.”

Asked whether this tough opening win against the defending champions will give her side confidence going forward, Lucas was loathe to get ahead of herself. “All the games will be as tough as this. We know that. It’s the first round so we are just focused on this weekend and we’ll take it from there.”

Van Dyk, meanwhile, placed all the blame for the loss on herself.

“It was a coach’s error. I shouldn’t have made that many changes, but I just felt we weren’t turning that many balls.

“I don’t believe they had the edge – I made the wrong decision.”

As for their impressive winning streak coming to an end, she added: “The first time being beaten after 18 wins is fine. It takes a lot of pressure off us, to carry that the whole time is quite difficult. It’s good for us to have this loss now.”

Meanwhile, in other Division 1 action, the North West Flames, who finished third in last year’s tournament, continued their winning ways with a 56-40 victory over the Gauteng Golden Fireballs.

Unlike the hotly contested match before theirs, it was a fairly comfortable win for the Flames as they took an 11-9 lead in the first quarter. Outgunning their opposition in all departments on court, that lead grew to 26-18 by half time. Despite a slightly better showing from the Fireballs in the third quarter, that came to an end with the Flames still 41-30 up, and they easily wrapped up the win.

“I thought we could have done much better but we couldn’t always score off our turnovers, which wasn’t great,” said Flames coach Elsjé Jordaan after the match. “But it’s the first game and everyone just had to get out there and settle a little bit, so we’re happy with the win.”

The Flames will next come up against the team they beat in extra time in last year’s third-place playoff, three-time champions, the Free State Crinums.

“In this first division now there are no easy games so we’ll see how it goes with the Crinums. They haven’t taken the court yet so they’ll have fresh legs but they’ll also have those starting nerves that we dealt with tonight which is great. There are a few tired bodies so we’ll see how we can recover for tomorrow,” added Jordaan.

In a second-division clash earlier in the afternoon, the Eastern Cape Aloes let an opening victory against the KZN Kingdom Stars slip through their grasp. Having drawn the first quarter 8-8, they were three up at half time and extended that lead to 35-30 by the final break.

While there was some questionable passing and basic errors on both sides of the court throughout the game, it was the Stars who held their nerve to close the gap in the final 15. They steadily closed the gap and managed to equalise at 43-all. One last shot from KZN to win the game was missed, so the sides had to settle for the draw.

Stars coach Bonisiwe Thabethe maintained she had confidence throughout that her side could avoid the loss. “Yes, I was confident because I trust these girls. They’ve worked so much for this game so I’m happy.

“I told the girls to reorganise themselves and become more cool and more comfortable, to throw whenever it’s necessary and also to trust those passes to each other. It was just the change of plan and the change of the game at that particular moment, but it worked for us.”

New Aloes coach Lana Krige admitted after the stress of the final few minutes: “I feel like my head is going to pop.

“I thought we had this game by far. I never felt out of control. At a stage we were six up with six minutes to go. How? Only in netball.”

Trying to make sense of having to settle for a draw, the coach explained: “We lacked getting that ball, the second pass into the circle so that was a big thing. We turned more than enough ball and the transition from defence to attack was also there – it was just that last bit, but that’s something that we can fix.”

Telkom Netball League

Results – 10 May 2019 – Round 1

Division 1

Southern Stings beat Gauteng Jaguars 43-42

North West Flames beat Gauteng Golden Fireballs 56-40

Division 2

Kingdom Stars and Eastern Cape Aloes drew 43-43