The bronze medal match was a highly emotional one for both teams. The English Roses had the weight of the world on their shoulders after a gut-wrenching exit from the gold medal match, while the Proteas were looking to achieve a medal for the first time since 1995. Both coaches have been instrumental in their teams’ achievements over the past few years, and winning bronze would have been a modest farewell gift.
South Africa started strongly: Lenize Potgeiter was on the move early while Karla Pretorius was looking dangerous as she hauled in an early intercept. The Proteas couldn’t reward her with a goal conversion, and their lack of consistency in doing so has been an issue throughout the tournament.
While the England defenders were doing their best to push the Proteas midcourt wide, Markya Holzhausen was slipping her Eboni Usoro-Brown leash to be a prime mover in the attacking end.
Jo Harten started at goal attack today, playing a steady game without the raw emotion seen in recent matches. She missed her first goal, but then settled into the match. Once again she combined fluently with Helen Housby, who was rock solid under the post. Pretorius and Phumza Maweni were impressive covering the English shooters’ preliminary moves, although they were generally able to get loose by the 3rd or 4th dodge.
The Roses held a narrow two goal lead by quarter time, but opened up play after that. Serena Guthrie was getting good drive onto the circle, while Nat Haythornthwaite was generally available as a feeding option. England were finding it much easier to work the ball through court, while the Proteas struggled to transition into attack against some stifling defensive work.
Unfortunately some poor decision making from both Bongiwe Msomi proved costly – she coughed up a game high six turnovers, and England were able to convert at the other end.
In the Roses’ defensive end, Jade Clarke limited Msomi’s influence on the centre pass, while Geva Mentor was a rock in defence. Although she took just one intercept against the unusual hold of Potgeiter, her six rebounds were huge and came at pivotal moments in the match.
Holzhausen’s accuracy dropped off in the last quarter, shooting just 1 from 5, and she made way for Siggy Burger in the dying moments of the game.
The final quarter was hard fought, but the result wasn’t in doubt. After a massive build up and gold medal expectations, the Roses had to settle for bronze. While the colour of the medal won’t in any way salvage their tournament, it’s a small consolation for years of hard work.
There were no superstars for England, just a team of well drilled athletes who were consistently good across the court, a contrast from the semi-final match.
The Proteas should be enormously proud of what they’ve achieved, despite going home without a medal. Without the funding or top class leagues of the other three semi-finalists, they’ve marched into the bronze medal match, beating second world ranked Jamaica along the way.
The next four years leading into a home World Cup will be an enormous challenge for the Proteas. With a number of players potentially not around for the next World Cup, they will need to find the next generation of superstars, and give them the opportunities they need to achieve at the highest level.
England defeated South Africa 58 – 42 (14-12, 15-10, 17-10, 12-10)
England: GS Helen Housby, GA Jo Harten, WA Nat Haythornthwaite, C Serena Guthrie, WD Jade Clarke, GD Eboni Usoro-Brown, GK Geva Mentor
Bench: Rachel Dunn, Chelsea Pitman, Nat Panagarry, Fran Williams
Coach: Tracey Neville
South Africa: GS Lenize Potgeiter, GA Maryka Holzhausen, WA Bongiwe Msomi, C Erin Burger, WD Khanyisa Chawane, GD Karla Pretorius, GK Phumza Maweni
Bench: Erin Burger, Sigrid Burger, , Renske Stoltz, Shadine van der Merwe, Zanele Vimbela
Coach: Norma Plummer
Umpires: Michelle Phippard and Gareth Fowler
England: Helen Housby 29/29 (100%), Jo Harten 29/34 (85%), Rachel Dunn 0/1 (0%)
South Africa: Lenize Potgeiter 28/32 (87.5%), Maryka Holzhausen 12/20 (60%), Siggy Burger 2/2 (100%)
WHAT THEY SAID AFTER THE GAME:
“Elation, at the end of the tournament sometimes you’re just glad it’s over. It’s a gruelling, gruelling tournament. More importantly I was really proud of the girls. The tears I feel are more that these have become my friends, my family, the people I live with day in, day out. They said they played for me, but they played for themselves tonight. That is true character.”
On possible retirements. “They need a break. A lot of these key players need to take the whole international season out, and we might have to take a few hits along the way.”
“We haven’t come out with a gold medal and that hurts.”
“Despite feeling like you deserve something, you still have to go out there and earn it.”
Serena Guthrie did nothing to dispel retirement rumours: “It’s been a big four years for me, so I’m going to take a week to relax with my dog, Bobby. I’ve got a wedding, I’ve just a house, so it never stops. Netball wise, we get a little bit of a break so I’m going to take that, put my feet up and focus on a few other things.”
Her reflection on coaching South Africa. “From where we’ve been to where we’ve come from, mission achieved, it’s as simple as that. I never promised them a gold medal, my ambition was to make the four. I set them up so that South Africa would know what they had to do to keep achieving. It’s really up to the country now to support the next coach and the players.”
Her thoughts on today: “We wanted to give Norma a bit more, it’s a bit disappointing.”
“I hope we’ve inspired the youngsters back home to also work hard, and also dream big, and believe when the World Cup is in South Africa in 2023 that we’ll improve rankings even more.”
Will your group play on to the 2023 Netball World Cup? “It’s a mixed feeling. Some of them want to finish and others that aren’t really sure. It will depend on a few things – we were very spoilt with Norma and Nicole coaching us and with a new coach some things can change, some players might not be selected, and the whole group might change. I’m not sure, and I don’t think too many players will make a decision now while they’re emotional.”