After Malawi produced a boil-over against New Zealand minutes earlier, South Africa strode into the arena confident of challenging the tournament favourites, Australia. However, the Diamonds hammered on with their scintillating form, not giving the injury-riddled Proteas a single look-in. The host nation went back to their old ways of clobbering the world number five, humbling them with a 22-goal margin. In yet another blow to their tournament chances, the Proteas suffered a major injury to their starting wing defence. Australia appear to have no chinks in the armour as they sealed three wins from three starts.
GS Caitlin Bassett (c)
GA Susan Pettitt
WA Madi Robinson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Gabi Simpson
GD April Brandley
GK Laura Geitz
Bench – Caitlin Thwaites, Steph Wood, Liz Watson, Jo Weston, Courtney Bruce
Coach – Lisa Alexander
GS Ine-Mari Venter
GA Maryka Holtzhausen
WA Bongi Msomi (c)
C Erin Burger
WD Precious Mthembu
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Phumza Maweni
Bench – Sigrid Burger, Renske Stoltz, Izette Griesel, Zenele Vimbela, Shadine van der Merwe
Coach – Norma Plummer
Umpires – Jono Bredin (New Zealand), Lisa McPhail (New Zealand), Kate Stephenson (England) (reserve)
Australia came out firing, leading 9-4 after the first eight minutes. Every one of their seven featured, with the back line all gaining clean possession, keeping their opponent lost behind, and switching speedily to cover open opponents.
At the other end Ravaillion impressed in her ability to lose Burger in attack, Bassett found surprising acres of space for wicked passes from Robinson, and Pettitt grittily took low front positions and sunk balanced shots.
A bit of courage emerged for the Proteas, but they were still off the pace, caught 14 times in the quarter for pushing and holding, in attempts to block the relentless Diamonds . Despite the physical attention, Australia landed a perfect fifteen goals to the South Africans’ nine.
Immediately in the second period Venter gave up merely priming herself for a lob on the fly, and instead used her dodge to find an excellent split in front position from a circle-edge feed. Unfortunately on the next play she failed to realise a lob to the backspace from Burger was for her. Holtzhausen was trying to inject some spark and creativity, succeeding on several shooter-to-shooter plays. Nevertheless, the Diamonds recreated their recent form, with stunning flat passes perfectly away from the defensive reach. They lead 25-17 part way through the quarter.
The South Africans had lost a bit of confidence and connection, as several times they looked away just before a player dodged twice and became wide open in good position. This was in no small measure due to the cover of Simpson, Brandley and Ravaillion, forcing every drive to the sideline or a dead end. Maweni tried unsuccessfully to interrupt the easy access to Bassett, but was able to shuffle her out of rebounding position on two occasions. The second quarter was the most even, South Africa only going down 12-14.
The Australian team was very changed for the third quarter – Thwaites, Wood, Robinson, Watson, Simpson, Weston, and Bruce – while South Africa kept a stable lineup.
South Africa came back with more swagger, and more determination in defence, resulting in Burger taking a slick intercept. She followed it up by dislocating her right pinky finger, necessitating a quick cameo by Griesel at centre. Even more deflating for South Africa and the fans was the apparent disastrous knee injury to Mthembu, who had been in excellent form in 2018. She screamed as she fell into the circle, and was taken to the ambulance via wheelchair.
Some lazy defence from the Proteas saw them drag themselves on or under moving players and umpire Bredin would have none of it. Their focus in gaining possession was perhaps too singular, as their entire time failed to take a rebound in the second half. They trailed 23-38 halfway through the third.
Wood was playing an even better deceptive moving game than in the first two pool matches, sliding through every small space despite Maweni’s arms being all over her. In fact, the composure of the whole Australian attack line under sticky physical pressure was admirable. Liz Watson made her case yet again as the best utility player in the team, knowing exactly when to sprint, cut, and drive, and when to steady the attacking flow, also taking three intercepts at centre in just fifteen minutes.
The South African system worked better when Pretorius tightly covered her Sunshine Coast Lightning teammate Wood, even drawing an offensive contact. Not a natural wing defence, Mthembu’s replacement van der Merwe didn’t occupy Robinson or clog up the top of the circle, and Australia found it simple to convert any centre pass or interception. A few steady shots from Venter slowed down the demolition momentarily, as the Diamonds lead 45-29 with fifteen minutes remaining.
Vimbela made a short appearance at wing defence, exploring an option to cover the position for the games against Fiji and Barbados in coming days. Pettitt, too, replaced Wood, after the rookie came out of a late contact from behind by Maweni with a bleeding nose. The Australian attack line showed endless variety, in pace, angles, and patience, hitting a 20-goal lead with eight minutes to spare.
Australia 60 def South Africa 38
Caitlin Bassett 20/23 87%
Susan Pettitt 11/11 100%
Caitlin Thwaites 15/15 100%
Steph Wood 14/15 93%
Ine-Mari Venter 33/40 83%
Maryka Holtzhausen 5/10 50%
Lisa Alexander, Australian coach
“That game wasn’t painless actually – it’s a really hard game against South Africa. Ever since I’ve been coaching (the Diamonds) I’ve found South Africa difficult because they never give in, they’re hard at it, and they never take a backwards step. We need to improve our transition out of defence, it was a little all-over-the-shop tonight. I thought South Africa set up some nice traps for us, and we played into those – we’ve got to be smarter. Norma (Plummer) knows our game plan very well, and we have to be more unpredictable in how we bring the ball out.”
On the defensive variety of her team
“Geitzy just plays more hard one-on-one, her style is where you cover the body more, and the space for the high ball, and touches on the low ones. Courtney (Bruce) does the same thing but plays off the body more, she’s got great athleticism to get up to high balls, and she envelopes her body extremely well to do that with great skill. We’re very blessed to have two wonderful keepers.”
On the elusiveness of Wood
“Steph Wood has of course been practising on Karla (Pretorius) at every training session, so we just said to go out there and play like you do on the training court at Lightning – you know what to do on Karla. She played with great confidence tonight – the first night she was little bit scratchy, the second night she really performed well, and then this game she put the foot down again, I was really pleased with her.”
On whether she issued a special challenge to Robinson, Ravaillion, and Brandley to lift their form
“It’s a credit to Collingwood – they’ve worked very hard, particularly that group, with the new coaching staff. Rob Wright’s there, and he really understands what I require in defence. April’s (Brandley) growing as a player and athlete, Madi (Robinson) has certainly added beautiful creativity to our team, and then Ravi just does her thing, she’s so calm and experienced, even at such a young age.”
Karla Pretorious, South Africa
“Really disappointed with the result, they played brilliantly on us and we just made it easy for them. But the pressure they applied obviously forced us to make all those errors. Really disappointed with the result, it wasn’t what we were going for. Unforced errors, maybe didn’t stick to the game plan, everything just didn’t go our way. So, I’m a bit frustrated.”
Her match-up on Stephanie Wood
“Steph, she’s quite a physical player as well and a very clever player. So not just matching up physically, she’s a smart player getting around. She did very well and I think it was a 100% goal average, so obviously we didn’t put enough pressure on her and she did a good job.
“I reckon she probably out-played me a bit. I think we have that advantage of having to train against each other at home, but she did very well. I should have stayed longer on her and applied more pressure and didn’t.”
The horrible run of injuries in the team
“It’s pretty bizarre how everything went, losing the two shooters, and especially at the shooting end which is such an important position on the field. And now Precious (Mthembu – knee injury) and we have a few niggles within the team. So all of that just contributed to how frustrated we maybe are. But we should keep our heads high, we still have a long way to go. So we’re going to look back on this and focus on the good stuff out of this and just try to improve.”
Norma Plummer, South Africa coach
“It’s been a pretty horrid two weeks, and unfortunately that’s what comes with sport. With Precious it’s a guess – maybe ACL. But they’ll take her to the hospital, poor kid. You’ve just got to deal with what you’ve got at the time.
“The players are getting pretty resilient, with Precious’ family member that died. She’s had a very tough week. Like everything else, there will be opportunities for others, and we’ve got to build what we had in South Africa, so we have that depth, and we identify what they need to keep working with.
“I think we might’ve found ourselves a new young shooter tonight. (Ine-Mari) did a really good job against a top team. We’ve been working hard with her in the last couple of days, and she’s really started to pick up the coaching that she’s been given. She’s a lot stronger than on day one. Sigi (Burger) – her position and shooting is good, but we needed a bit more strength tonight.
“Overall, only 22 goals,… I thought we could’ve gone down by more! We kept fighting for it. I do hope to talk to the umpires, interpretations are obviously different. Karla tried to adjust but then still got pulled. We need to look at the video, and then we may be able have a discussion with them. I’m on the international coaching committee now, and these are some things I want to put forward. We’re losing connection – the game is sped up in certain ways, but not in other parts to keep up with it.”
Susan Pettitt, Australia
Her 100% shooting record so far
“It feels good, but now you’ve probably jinxed me and now I’ll have a shocker! Yeah look everything’s feeling really good out there, everyone’s playing really well so it follows through to our shot. I think all our shooters are playing really well and shooting beautifully.”
The vibe within the team
“Really good, I think everyone’s feeling fantastic. We’ve got a (team of) 12 that’s so strong that everyone’s really connected and helping each other out, so there’s no starting seven, which is a really good vibe in the team.”
What did she think about the Malawi win over New Zealand
“We only heard about it as we were about to start warming up, so we’ll probably go and have a look at the footage a little bit. But we tried to focus just on us after that game. It’s a bit of a wake-up call to say there’s teams here that are ready to compete, so you have to be on your game all the time.”