Australia have survived an almighty scare against South Africa and now sit in the box seat to clinch the Netball Quad Series after the Diamonds secured a hard-fought 58-52 victory in front of a packed AIS Arena on Wednesday night.
The Proteas were trying to beat Australia for the first time in 35 attempts and led by two goals in the second quarter, but the Diamonds rallied to see off the gutsy South African effort.
Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander attributed South Africa’s dramatic improvement in recent years to more of their players featuring in Australia’s domestic competition.
“Clearly playing in Super Netball… the players learn that who they’re playing against here are human beings and it’s not quite as intimidating as what it was in the past,” Alexander said.
“You can actually beat a team before they get on the court, we know that and realise that and that’s why we’ll keep this in perspective.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board with those sorts of things and keep persisting at improving our game.”
Alexander said her side must improve by at least 20 per cent if they want to take out the Quad Series when they face New Zealand away on Saturday.
“Whenever it’s Australia vs New Zealand it’s one of the greatest rivalries in world sport. Particularly on their home turf and in Invercargill,” Alexander said.
“We know we have to do our homework. We have to analyse what’s happening. We’ve got at least a 20 per cent improvement in many different areas and that’s concentration areas.”
It was South Africa’s closest game against Australia in 50 years and and coach Norma Plummer conceded it was an opportunity missed but still heaped praise on her side’s performance.
“That was a sensational performance by these girls, Australia used to beat them by 55 goals, that’s not happening now, it was 16 last time and we’ve dropped it again,” Plummer said.
“We could have gone and played all the lower ranked teams but we came to play the three top ranked teams and whether we got beaten or not we wanted to close the gap.
“Over the whole series that’s been the challenge and we’ve gotten better. I reckon the cellophane will break down the track and we might get one, we only need one.”
Australia controlled proceedings from the opening whistle and led 14-11 at the first change but the Proteas came back into the contest in the second stanza through gun wing attack Bongiwe Msomi.
South Africa netted five unanswered goals and took a 20-18 lead, before Alexander substituted goal attack Tegan Philip for Gretel Tippett and the sides went into half-time locked at 27-27.
Diamonds’ goal defence April Brandley started after the break and stemmed the flow of goals alongside Courtney Bruce who put in another dominant performance just four days after earning best-on-court honours on debut.
Australia clawed back the tempo in the third quarter as the crowd willed the world’s best side back into the match and the Diamonds held a nervous 44-39 lead at the final change.
Shooter Caitlin Thwaites started in place of skipper Caitlin Bassett and the 30-year-old made the most of her opportunity netting 30-33 in a stunning three-quarter effort.
South Africa fought hard but the Diamonds showed their composure to see the result out as captain Bassett iced the game with some cool shooting under pressure in the fourth.
Wing attack Liz Watson was at her devastating best with some crucial intercepts and linked superbly with centre Kim Ravaillion who dominated through the mid court.
Msomi’s incredible agility was on full display and her lightning speed was only outdone by her dazzling vision as the Proteas skipper bamboozled the Australian defence on several occasions.
It was an enthralling contest from start to finish and a clear warning shot from the South Africans ahead of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games where the Diamonds will look to defend gold.
It marks two wins on the bounce for Australia after they ousted England in the tournament opener 54-50 and they’ll look to clinch the series on Saturday.
The victory not only extended their winning run against South Africa but kept the Diamonds unbeaten in the capital as the near sell-out Canberra crowd once again left satisfied.
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