Australian coach Lisa Alexander was adamant that she chose today’s starting seven based on match ups and form, but to many, it was an interesting selection. In choosing an almost completely different line up from the last match against New Zealand, Alexander retained just wing defence Jamie-Lee Price and goal defence Jo Weston.
Given that most teams are running their best line up into the finals, what is behind Alexander’s strategy of choosing a different seven? Is the Australian 12 genuinely of equal strength, as she firmly believes, or did she potentially see South Africa as an easier match up? Did she expect to see New Zealand and England belt hell out of each other later in the day, leaving her team relatively fresher for the gold medal match in comparison.
If this is Alexander’s strategy, it almost came unstuck today. Like Thursday’s match against New Zealand, Australia started cautiously in the first quarter, built their lead in the second, then faded out in the last half of the match. The slow start and slower finish are a big concern that Australia will need to rectify overnight if they’re to be successful in the gold medal match.
South African coach Norma Plummer started with her strongest line, with captain Bongiwe Msomi ruled fit to play after tweaking her ankle two days ago. Just one of the South African players on court hasn’t had experience in the Suncorp Super Netball league, and they were fearless right from the start.
The Australians started with hesitancy in attack, not letting the ball go and perhaps adjusting to yet another new starting line. In a low scoring quarter, the South Africans kept par with Australia throughout the opening minutes, not managing to establish a small break until late in the quarter.
In the South African attacking end, goal attack Maryka Holzhausen was using all her wile to keep the rangy arms of Jo Weston engaged outside the circle, setting up Lenize Potgeiter for a one-on-one against Sarah Klau. Potgeiter was outstanding at various times, mixing up movement with her unusual hold, to establish dominance over the young Australian. While Holzhausen didn’t shoot much, she equally didn’t allow Weston to get hands to much ball.
The Australian midcourt was patient without being particularly fluid. Liz Watson, so comfortable in her well-drilled Vixens structure, had some difficulty establishing her own space when Gretel Tippett was on long leads out of the circle.
Jamie-Lee Price was being punished by the whistle early, but pulled down two critical intercepts that allowed Australia to take a lead of eight goals into half time. She and Weston were also doing a strong job of pushing the Proteas sideways away from the central channel of the court, forcing cross court passes.
Caitlin Thwaites had another accurate game at goal shooter, and her mobility saw her venture out of the circle as a third option to the ball on a number of occasions. Her opponent, Phumza Maweni, sat back in the circle, protecting the post. There were opportunities for Maweni to fly at the ball, but she took the safer option, and finished with 1 intercept and 5 deflections.
The Proteas came out with renewed purpose in the third quarter, forcing the Australians to work far harder on passage to goal. Recent debutant and wing defence Khanyisa Chawane was a strong presence against Kelsey Browne, restricting the wing attack’s ability to cut and drive around the circle. Paige Hadley took on the bulk of responsibility for feeding the circle, which she did efficiently.
By three quarter time, Australia’s lead had been cut to four, and the match got interesting.
Steph Wood came into goal attack, with Hadley back on at wing attack and Watson at centre. They didn’t add any more punch to the front line than had previously been on display, leaving Alexander a conundrum about her starting line for tomorrow.
Courtney Bruce also moved to goal keeper, and the instinctive connection that she’s developed with Weston was immediately evident. It’s a lethal pairing that looks promising for the years to come.
Izette Griesel added strength at wing attack for the Proteas – while she’s perhaps slightly less potent on attack than Bongiwe Msomi, she adds spine on through court defence.
With Karla Pretorius picking up a couple of loose passes, South Africa cut the margin back to one goal. Despite the crowd willing the underdogs on, Australia kept their composure to win through to the gold medal match by just two goals.
The key to the Protea’s fortunes all week has been their difficulty in converting turnovers, and today their success rate was just 29%. It’s proved costly at pivotal moments, and according to Maryka Holzhausen, “I think we get so excited when we turn the ball, especially against a team like Australia, but we just need to be calm when we turn over the ball, and I think that will be the difference tomorrow.”
South Africa will hope to finish strongly tomorrow, as they face a significant number of retirements and a new coaching structure after the Netball World Cup.
Australia’s win wasn’t convincing, and their slow starts and late fade outs are a luxury they won’t be able to afford on judgement day against New Zealand.
Australia defeated South Africa 55 – 53 (14-10, 17 – 13, 12 – 16, 12 – 14)
Umpires: Gareth Fowler and Gary Burgess
Australia: GS Caitlin Thwaites, GA Gretel Tippett, WA Liz Watson, C Paige Hadley, WD Jamie-Lee Price GD Eboni Jo Weston, GK Sarah Klau
Bench: Caitlin Bassett, Steph Wood, Kelsey Browne, Courtney Bruce, April Brandley
Coach: Lisa Alexander
South Africa: GS Lenize Potgeiter, GA Maryka Holzhausen, WA Izette Griesel, C Bongiwe Msomi, WD Shadine van der Merwe, GD Karla Pretorius, GK Phumza Maweni
Bench: Erin Burger, Sigrid Burger, Khanyisa Chawane, Renske Stoltz, Zanele Vimbela
Coach: Norma Plummer
Umpires: Gary Burgess and Gareth Fowler
Australia: Caitlin Thwaites 30/30 (100%), Gretel Tippett 23/23 (100%), Steph Wood 2/3 (66%)
South Africa: Lenize Potgeiter 39/41 (95%), Maryka Holzhausen 14/16 (87%)
WHAT THEY SAID AFTER THE GAME:
On South Africa pulling the lead back: “It was a bit nervy but the great thing is we are putting into practice all the things we have worked on in the last three weeks to find a way to score when we have to score. And to find a way to get turnovers when we need them. We didn’t deliberately put ourselves in that position but that is what happens in these games. South Africa are a great opponent, they were going to keep going for four quarters. We knew that. But I am pleased with our team. They came through.”
Thinking behind not starting the four players who were influential against New Zealand:
“Because we were playing a different opponent. I made it clear on the TV as well, we did not pick this team because we underestimated South Africa at all. We picked it because we felt it matched up best on them. That is how much we respect them.”
3/4 time advice
“It was more about composure. In those moments, it is about playing our game and not getting caught up in the crowd. It was fantastic today to practice for tomorrow – whichever way it goes. We have to keep composure when the crowd is going right off, when you can’t hear the umpire, all of those things.”
On today’s match: “It wasn’t a walk in the park. They (Australia) were very lucky to get out of it, because we had the opportunity in the last bit with one goal down. But the experience of maintaining pressure at that time cost us. But we worked damn hard – I thought our hassle rate was sensational on Australia…what I mean by that is how many times you make sure they have to work the ball to get it in the circle.”
On South Africa winning the last half of the game. “They got a blast at three quarter time, I can assure you, not going to the post. After that Potgeiter looked outstanding.”
On debutant Khanyisa Chawane “Fantastically. The kid in her first world championships, really practically second time in the team. I think she’s an absolute gun, and I’ll be amazed if someone doesn’t pick her up in Australia, England or New Zealand. She’s 23 and she plays right across the centre court and can do the job. Kelsey Browne didn’t have her own way at all.”
Phumza Maweni (South Africa) on her thoughts when South Africa has a turnover against them.
“It’s so emotional, and we can’t control it, because we defend, but obviously the pressure is on the pass and the players as well. You can feel, and you can see the placement of the ball, and they JUST lose control at crucial moments. I always motivate them. Don’t worry, if you miss it, just head up and defend, and I will turn the ball for you. I will turn it again.”
Your thoughts on today’s match. “I think the best way to describe it is so close and yet so far, we’ll look back on it and just one thing needed to go in our favour and it didn’t. But the fight back from the girls in that second half was amazing. I think this was the best team South Africa has ever produced.”