The recent rise of the South Africa Spar Proteas
IT has been a busy 10 years for the South Africa Spar Proteas, getting up to standard once more with the rest of the top netballing nations and working hard to go from relative obscurity to having some of the most well known international names. Whilst South Africa had a netball golden age throughout the late 1990s, including a Netball World Cup (formerly World Netball Championships) silver medal, the nation has somewhat become an underdog amongst the top nations since the early 2000s, with no performances greater than a fourth placed finish.
While the South African team has rarely been out of the hunt for medal calculations at Netball World Cups and Commonwealth Games, the nation has unfortunately not quite been able to reach the same peaks achieved in the ’90s, following South Africa’s return to the international game following the end of the Apartheid regime. That is, until Norma Plummer took the helm.
It is hard to look past the impact that former South Africa head coach Plummer had on the Spar Proteas throughout the course of her coaching tenure from 2015-2019. The former Australian coach put the South African squad through the ringer, forming a hugely threatening team that went far deeper in the 2019 Netball World Cup than many expected – first defeating Jamaica, then falling to Australia by just two goals and eventually finishing fourth to England in the bronze medal match.
In 2020, following the end of her time as head coach, Plummer told Sky Sports UK that her squad was more challenged by a lack of resources than skill, with their self belief taking hold at the NWC – and growing since then.
“We didn’t have the preparation that everybody thinks,” Plummer said. “If we could have had the opportunity like Australia had, to be able to have camps, financial back up and the competition, anything could have happened.
“That’s why I was so proud of them. They learnt so much, so quickly with limited opportunities to work with us.”
In Plummer’s mind, the South African players always had the potential, they just required the tools and backup to reach it. Whilst the former head coach only spent four years at the helm – and limited time at that – the side went through a huge transformation.
What has been most remarkable about the Proteas though, is not only the impact of Plummer, but also the success the South African team has continued to find since the end of her reign. While Plummer put the wheels in motion, current head coach Dorette Badenhorst has built well from those foundations to continue the side’s formidable growth.
Unlike many other top nations on the World Netball leaderboard, South Africa has actively participated in continuous test matches during the latter stage of 2021. Not only that, but they have swept their competition at each test they have participated in; first the makeshift UK tour that replaced their test series with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and now this week’s Africa Netball Cup, coming away with a perfect record from eight matches.
Most remarkably, the longevity of South Africa’s playing squad just proves how impressive its players are, and how excellent the Telkom Netball League is for developing the next South African squad members. Newcomers to the fray are earning valuable test experience but also proving their worth within the international environment, challenging established players for the starting spot. In some scenarios, young, developing players have been selected over regular starters in the overall squad list, with complete trust that the newcomers can complete the task ahead without a fallback.
It is safe to say that while South Africa has a number of ageing players, the future of the squad is in safe hands as the Spar Baby Proteas work their way into contention, building off the great blocks set in place during Plummer’s reign.