Proteas return home with renewed vigour

THE South African netball team returned home from Kallang, Singapore on today (July 11) with a new spring in their step.

A small but vociferous group of fans braved the chilly weather and early hour to meet the Proteas and congratulate them on their achievements at the World Netball Championships.

South Africa finished in fifth place, after beating nemesis Malawi 52-50 in a nailbiting match, to move up the world rankings into fifth position.

But thrilling as the match against Malawi was, it was South Africa’s performance against New Zealand in the quarterfinals that set pulses racing.

South Africa came out fighting, and led world No 1 New Zealand 11-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Although New Zealand went on to beat South Africa comprehensively, 58-28, the Proteas fought hard throughout the match, and forced the Silver Ferns to make a number of substitutions to cope with the feisty Proteas.

Kiwi star and former Protea, Irene van Dyk, said she was impressed by the way South Africa played, particularly against New Zealand.

“They are a very happy team and they have an incredible amount of self belief and trust in one another,” Van Dyk said.

“If they can string together four quarters like that first quarter against us, then they can beat anyone.”

The way the Proteas performed was one of the hot topics at the world championships, with many senior players and officials commenting on improvements shown by the South African team.

“They have a real respect for us now, and that is very important as we build towards the next world championships in 2015,” said Protea captain Amanda Mynhardt.

“This is the start of the new South African team. We are on the rise and the top teams had better look out — South Africa is coming.” Proteas centre Erin Burger was named Player of the Tournament.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Burger said.

“I am so proud and feel so humbled by that award. When I think about it, I just can’t stop smiling.” Netball SA (NSA) president Mimi Mthethwa said South Africa’s strong performance at the tournament would help the national federation gain more sponsors as people began to take the sport more seriously.

There are indications that the government is taking netball more seriously than before.

President Jacob Zuma invited the players to tea at his official residence in Pretoria just before they left for Singapore.

It was the first time the netball team had been honoured in this way.

Sports minister Fikile Mbalula travelled to Singapore to attend a reception for the Proteas at the SA Embassy there, and government spokesman Jimmy Manyi dropped in to watch the quarterfinal match against New Zealand.

Mbalula said in a statement on Monday that efforts would be made to raise the status of the sport in South Africa.

“We need to sit down with NSA to see how we can improve and professionalise netball,” he said.

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