Proteas sigh of relief after She Cranes scare

SOUTH Africa was involved in another heartstopping Netball World Cup contest overnight, but this time came away with the points, defeating Uganda by two goals in the final match of the preliminaries stage. Though the Proteas did fall short of making the semi-finals, they finished off on a high ahead of the playoff, defeating the She Cranes by two goals, 52-50.

It was far from the simple victory it looked like in the first two quarters, as the match was split into two very distinct halves. The first half was South Africa racing away to a 14-goal win in what was looking like a surprisingly one-sided contest, while the second half was the She Cranes roaring to life, storming home and almost pinching it, falling two goals short of a perfect comeback.

At no stage during the match did Uganda lead, but at both bookends of the contest, the She Cranes drew level on several occasions which gave the home crowd some nervous moments. Luckily for South Africa, the in-form Nichole Taljaard and partner-in-crime Elmere van der Berg steadied in the final few minutes to give their side enough of a buffer to win the game.

Heading into the final five minutes, Shadiah Nassanga – who had stepped up to take the load from the consistent Mary Cholhok levelled the scores at 48 goals apiece. At that point, the She Cranes had scored 12-7 in the final term with all the momentum firmly in their favour. When van der Berg missed a chance two minutes later to go two goals up, Nassanga had another chance to level the scores.

Unfortunately on this occasion she missed, and Taljaard scored back-to-back goals and gave the home side enough of a bugger to ride out the final couple of minutes. Cholhok scored to bring it back to two goals with 27 seconds on the clock, but it was not enough, and South Africa had survived a scare winning, 52-50.

The victory came off the back off a heartbreaking draw with New Zealand, which had the Proteas scored one more goal, would have upset the Silver Ferns and reached the semi-finals of their home World Cup. Unfortunately it was not to be, though they showed what a danger they could be.

The dominant start against the She Cranes saw them race out to a 33-19 lead at the main break, with Ine-Mari Venter shooting 24 goals from 26 attempts, while Taljaard went at 100 per cent from nine attempts, and also had 11 goal assists. In defence, the combination of Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius was incredible, forcing the She Cranes to make a move of Nassanga into goal attack and Irene Eyaru to her wing attack.

That move proved fruitful in the second half as Nassanga exploded, scoring eight goals at 100 per cent and having 10 goal assists in the third term, as Cholhok also shot at 100 per cent from nine chances. In the fourth quarter, Nassanga took the reins and shot 11 goals from 12 attempts, while Cholhok took a back seat, but shot all three of her attempts accurately. In defence, Christine Nakitto was crucial, picking up up four intercepts and five gains in goal defence.

Despite the loss, Nassanga’s ability to turn the match around resulted in her earning Player of the Match in a loss. She finished with 13 goal assists from 17 feeds and shot 21 goals from 23 attempts. Cholhok (29 goals at 100 per cent) and Nakitto (five intercepts) were fantastic.

Taljaard shot 15 goals at 100 per cent and had 13 goal assists, as the midcourt of Izette Griesel and Bongi Msomi were strong in the first half, while Ugandan pair Eyaru and Lillian Achola looked good in the second half. Venter (26 goals from 28 attempts) was also an accurate shooter in the game.

Malawi (56) defeated Tonga (51)

Malawi did enough to secure the win against a determined Tonga in another thrilling contest, getting up by five goals. It was the second term that really separated the sides with the Queens scoring 18 goals to 13 in what was otherwise a nail-biting event. Though Tonga held its own against such a quality nation, in the end, Malawi proved a touch too good by winning, 56-51.

Malawi defender Towera Vinkhumbo won Player of the Match, picking up a game-high four intercepts, as well as four deflections, seven gains and two rebounds for her troubles. Joyce Mvula (38 goals from 41 attempts) and Mwai Kumwenda (18 from 18) were both strong in the shooting circle, while Takondwa Lwazi had 29 goal assist.

Tonga’s goal shooters in Uneeq Palavi (25 goals from 30 attempts) and Cat Tuivaiti (20 from 20) were both outstanding as Hulita Veve again impressed with 15 goal assists from 26 feeds, three gains, two intercepts and one deflection in the match.

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