Northern Ireland go down fightingComment on this story
Cape Town - Northern Ireland made the South African team fight every step of the way to win the third and final match 58-52 in the Spar Challenge netball series in Cape Town on Wednesday.
South Africa won the series 3-0, but the Irish can go home with their heads held high, after outscoring South Africa in the second and final quarters.
Proteas coach Elize Kotze started the match without some of her front-line players, with captain Amanda Mynhardt, Erin Burger and Aneret Viljoen all warming the bench.
For the first 10 minutes, the teams traded goal for goal before Northern Ireland briefly took the lead. South Africa came back at them and won the first quarter 16-13.
Mynhardt replaced Karla Mostert at goal defence in the second quarter and brought some stability, although the visitors outscored South Africa by 14 goals to 12 in the second stanza.
The Northern Ireland goal shooter Noleen Lennon, who was named player of the match, and goal attack Oonagh McCullough were both outstanding and, as the goals piled up, the hosts appeared to panic, making a number of unforced errors.
With South Africa leading 28-27 at halftime, Kotze brought on her big guns, Erin Burger and Aneret Viljoen.
Burger replaced Bongiwe Msomi, who had again played well and earned the player of the series accolade.
South Africa won the quarter by 20 goals to 12 with a difference which was enough to ensure the home side's victory, although Northern Ireland won the final quarter 13-10.
“We can't make excuses. Maybe we were over-confident,” said Kotze.
“Also, I tried new combinations today. This is the first opportunity I have had to try something like that, and I realise how valuable our more experienced players are.
“I'm really not worried. We won the series 3-0 and the fact that Northern Ireland came back tonight was fantastic.
The challenge was good. They re-strategised and played a whole new game, which meant I also had to change my strategy.”
Northern Ireland coach Jill McIntosh, who said after Tuesday's defeat she wanted to narrow the winning margin, said she was delighted by the team's performance.
“I think the team really believed in themselves and their ability,” McIntosh said.
“They cut down on their unforced errors, which was one of our big targets. We also managed to force South Africa into making errors.
“The more this team gets out and plays international netball, the better they will be.” - Sapa