2019 in review: Proteas bloom in promising netball season

Head Coach of South Africa, Norma Plummer looks on during the Vitality Netball International Series match between England Vitality Roses and South Africa, as part of the Netball Quad Series at Copper Box Arena on January 19, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

The team bid a fond farewell to coach Norma Plummer, but the foundation has been laid for more success.

It wasn’t plain sailing this year, and their lengthy drought at major global championships was extended, but the national netball team finally managed to crack the barrier which had separated them from the top four sides in recent seasons.

They can look back on a campaign which included a couple of wins against higher-ranked England and a crucial victory over Jamaica, and they can take confidence from narrow defeats to Australia and New Zealand, as they consistently punched above their weight in 2019.

These are some of the highlights of a memorable season.

World Cup

Making heads turn back home, the Proteas delivered an early upset against Jamaica in the group stages of the quadrennial spectacle, held in Liverpool in July, and they went on to reach the semifinals.

In a historic effort, the national squad progressed to the last four for the first time in 24 years, and while they produced a thrilling performance against defending champions Australia in the penultimate round, they were ultimately edged out in a narrow 55-53 defeat.

They were not as impressive in the third-place playoff, with hosts England taking control of the game and grabbing the bronze medals, but the Proteas fought hard throughout a gutsy campaign and returned home with their heads held high.

African champions

Though the withdrawal of Tanzania on the eve of the tournament forced organisers to adjust the format, combining the two pools into a round robin competition, the late change did not deter the host team as the Proteas coasted to victory at the Africa Netball Cup in Cape Town in October.

Sweeping aside all six of their opponents at the continental tournament, the SA squad finished top of the final standings, lifting the crown ahead of Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Kenya.

The battle behind them was fierce, however, again showcasing the improved standard of African netball, with Malawi edging out Uganda to take second place.

English battle

While South Africa lost twice to England at the World Cup, which denied them a place on the podium, the Proteas earned two consolation victories over the Roses this year.

At the season opening Quad Series tournament in January, the SA side narrowly lost to Australia and New Zealand, but they made up for it with a 48-45 victory over England, beating the Roses on UK soil for the first time in 19 years.

Closing out the season, the Roses bagged a 2-1 series victory in Cape Town in the first week of December, but the Proteas’ 54-48 victory in the final match would have boosted their confidence ahead of the new year.

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