After finishing as runners-up three times in a row, things finally came together for the Jaguars, who beat the North West Flames 49-43 in a thrilling final of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League(BFNPL) at the Mangaung Indoor Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It was a ding-dong battle, with play moving from end to end at a rapid rate. The Jaguars took the early lead, but in the second quarter, the Flames caught up and then passed them. They had a three-goal lead before the Jaguars struck back and drew level on 14-all. They took the lead again, and stayed there for the rest of the match, although the Flames fought hard. Their goal attack, Renske Stoltz, the shooter of the tournament, was calm under pressure, and scored her goals from almost anywhere in the court, but her efforts were in vain.
Player of the match was Izette Griesel of the Jaguars, who played at centre and also at wing attack at one stage. She did a superb job of driving the ball into the circle, where former Protea goalshooter Chrisna van Zyl used her experience to good effect.
Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk said her players amazed her.
“They don’t know how good they are and how good they can be,” she said.
“This has been such a battle. This is our fourth final, and each time we lost, it got harder. The third loss was devastating and we realised we had to do things differently. And this is the result. Three times a bridesmaid, and now we are officially the bride.”
Jaguars captain Shadine van der Merwe, who played in all four finals, said she had been determined not to leave the court without a win.
“It was a hard match, but we didn’t want it to be easy. Everyone pulled their weight, and showed great big match temperament. We were strong, not only physically, but mentally as well.”
Flames coach Dorette Badenhorst said she was disappointed, but very proud of her team.
“At the start of the tournament, no-one thought we would be in the final,” she said.
“Nothing went wrong in this match – they were just the better team. But I am proud of the way my players supported each other and played as a team throughout the tournament. We have also finished higher than we did last year, when we came fourth.”
The Jaguars leave for New Zealand on the 29th of this month to take part in the Super Cup – a competition featuring top clubs from around the world.
Earlier, there was heartbreak for the Southern Stings on Sunday, as the Golden Fireballs clinched third place by beating them 55-45.
The Stings were the dominant team throughout the tournament, but appeared to have run out of steam when it came to the knockout stages. They started well, and were 14-10 ahead at the end of the first quarter, but the Fireballs came back strongly in the second, outscoring the Stings by 16 goals to six, to lead 26-20 at halftime.
Fireballs coach Elsje Jordaan was elated.
“It was hard to get the players motivated after they so nearly won their semifinal against the Flames last night,” she said.
“They were flat, but as the game progressed, they forgot about the loss and starting playing with better.
“They showed more patience today, and jumping from sixth place to third is an achievement –a 100 per cent improvement.
“I think we have done a lot for the Golden Fireballs brand in the last two years.”
“There was a lack of consistency,” said Stings coach Annelie Lucas.
“I don’t think it was the pressure of the occasion – we have been here before. But our centre court was made up of less experienced players, and that’s where we lost it.
“We put so much into this campaign, and we definitely would have liked to have done better. We certainly didn’t intended to drop out of the top three.”
Proteas coach, Norma Plummer, who watched the last two weekends of the tournament, said the BFNPL was good for netball in South Africa.
“I think the standard of play has improved, but South Africa actually need more intensive competitions like this if they are to challenge the top four teams in world netball,” she said.
Plummer said there would be a Proteas training camp in July, but she did not foresee too many changes to the current squad.
“There were not too many new faces who caught my eye, and I don’t think there will be more than four of five new names in the squad. I watched the Proteas closely, and some of them were a bit under par, and will have to put in some hard work.”