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Xtra | Xtra

Netball continues to climb into the spotlight



The stature of netball in South Africa continued to rise in 2012 as it found its way onto prime time television with the promise of more to come.

Netball South Africa announced a five-year broadcast partnership with SuperSport which would see netball being broadcast live from 2013, and sports minister Fikile Mbalula announced the introduction of a professional netball league, due to start next year.

"Netball remains one of the largest sporting codes in the country and it deserves to have a professional league and roar to a stature of the likes of soccer, rugby and cricket," Mbalula said.

"We cannot continue to treat the most popular women's sport in South Africa as a marginalised and cinderella sport. We have agreed to increase the profile of netball and make it more attractive and marketable."

Other innovations this year included the inaugural Netball Diamond Challenge, which saw the Proteas take on African giants Malawi, Botswana and Zambia in Pretoria, while the Mother City welcomed the first World University Netball Championship, comprising teams from all over the world.

The biggest stumbling block which the national team continued to face was that the top four teams in the world – Australia, New Zealand, England and Jamaica – were professional and it would always be difficult for the part-timers to compete on equal terms.

Nevertheless, in June, South Africa went into their three-test away series against Jamaica well prepared and brimming with intensity.

They lost the first test 63-48 and were again outscored by the same margin in the second match, going down 61-46.

In the third test, the Proteas beat Jamaica 56-49, recording their first victory over the Sunshine Girls in 28 years, in what was considered a turning point for the team.

In July, the SA university side, playing together for the first time, reached the final of the inaugural World University Netball Championship in Cape Town. They lost 53-49 to Great Britain.

A week later, the senior national side proved too strong for Northern Ireland, beating the visitors 61-37 in the first of three tests in Cape Town.

The hosts outclassed their opponents 66-42 in the second test to clinch the series, dominating in all areas.

Slowly acclimatising, Northern Ireland made the South Africans fight for their 58-52 victory in the third and final match, to take the series 3-0.

'DIFFERENT INTENSITY'

Later in August, South Africa beat Botswana and Zambia in their first two round-robin games of the Diamond Challenge and made a shaky start against Malawi – the one team in Africa ranked above them.

While they were unable to close the gap, losing 47-42, the two teams met again the following day in the final with a very different result – the hosts winning the four-nations challenge 47-43.

The Proteas felt ready to take on the world as they embarked on their October tour of Australia and New Zealand in the Quad Series.

Despite losing all six of their games, against the two host countries and England, coach Elize Kotze believed they had made huge strides during their tour.

"The players will not look at netball through the same eyes again," she said.

"It was another level – a different intensity – and it was a huge wake-up call for us. We thought we were doing well when we played against teams ranked lower than us, but once we were there, we realised what it meant to be professional."

In November, South Africa powered their way into the semifinals of the Fast 5 World Netball Series in Auckland, New Zealand.

They opened their account with a surprise 28-27 victory over the Australian Diamonds but were soon brought back to earth in their second match, where they were completely outplayed by New Zealand, who beat them 52-19.

South Africa went on to defeat Malawi 48-34 and earn their semi-final spot against England.

They were soundly beaten 39-15 but managed to outplay Jamaica for the bronze medal, winning 38-34.



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