Liverpool, United Kingdom – The SPAR Proteas put on their best performance against New Zealand since 1995 in their Quad Series match at the Copper Box in London on Sunday, forcing the Silver Ferns into extra time and ultimately going down by 60 goals to 62.
It was a crucial match for both sides, with the Proteas looking to add to their triumph over the England Roses and the Ferns seeking their first win of the tournament.
The Proteas started badly, conceding eight goals before they were able to score their first.
Coach Norma Plummer had started with a different line-up from the one that beat the Roses 48-45 on Saturday, playing Ine-Mari Venter at goalshooter and Lenize Potgieter at goal attack. But when Venter missed her first attempt at goal, Plummer immediately turned to the tried and trusted combination of Potgieter at goalshooter and Maryka Holtzhausen at goal defence.
The impact was immediate, with the Proteas scoring four consecutive goals. At the end of the first quarter, the Silver Ferns led by 14 goals to nine.
From the second quarter, the Proteas were unstoppable, winning the second quarter by 11 goals to eight, to trail by just two goals at half-time.
The third quarter was a ding-dong battle. Captain and wing defence Bongi Msomi was like lightning on the court, appearing wherever she was needed. Potgieter and Holtzhausen were both shooting well, with Holtzhausen feeding the ball into the circle and Potgieter displaying her characteristic calm as she scored goal after goal with seeming ease. She finished with a 96 per cent success rate. At the other end, the veteran Ferns shooter Maria Folau was equally effective. Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni both achieved some amazing turnovers. South Africa won the quarter by 14 goals to 11, to level the score at 34-all.
The final quarter went with centre pass, with neither side able to gain the advantage, and when the final whistle went, they were still level on 45-all.
The match went into extra time. After the first session of extra time, the Proteas had a slender one-goal lead (50-49). After the second session, the teams were still level on 56-all and it was time for the Golden Goal rule, where the first team to lead by two goals would win.
First one team, then the other took the lead and it appeared the match would go on forever. But Potgieter had a rare miss and Folau responded with two goals to give New Zealand victory.
While it was heartbreak for the Proteas, who had come so close to victory, they have every reason to celebrate. It was their best result against the world number two since beating them in the World Cup in Birmingham 1995 – the only time they have beaten them in 32 Tests.
The Proteas can return home with their heads held high after losing to the world number one, the Australian Diamonds, by three goals, beating world number four England by three goals and losing to New Zealand in extra time by the narrowest of margins.
The Silver Ferns coach, Noeline Taurua, had nothing but praise for the Proteas.
“It was a fantastic match,” she said.
“Norma Plummer has done wonders with this team, and they will be a force to be reckoned with at the World Cup in Liverpool in July.
“A few years ago, we were beating them by 30 goals and more. This was a wonderful game of netball.”