Pretoria - South Africa’s 47-34 victory over Zambia was not quite the birthday celebration that netball coach Elize Kotze had envisaged at the Diamond Challenge in Pretoria on Thursday night.
Despite their second victory in the four-nations tournament, the Proteas failed to set the stadium alight and will need to up their game considerably when they take on African champions Malawi on Friday.
The Zambians dominated possession in the first half of the match, but conceded more turnovers, allowing the hosts a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The visitors came back hard in the next quarter and, at one stage, Zambia scored four goals in a row.
The Proteas heeded the warning and snapped back into focus, maintaining a 25-17 lead at half-time.
The Zambians played a very physical game and Kotze made a few tactical substitutions to protect her less experienced players.
The upshot only served to unsettle the team’s attack so she was forced to make further changes in the third quarter.
Ahead by 10 goals at the start of the fourth quarter, the Proteas again conceded possession, but both teams were unable to capitalise on the growing number of mistakes being made by both sides.
Zambia’s Lucy Jere was the most accurate of the shooters, scoring 22 from 26 attempts while Melissa Myburgh netted 34 from 43 opportunities.
Player-of-the-match Karla Mostert was delighted with her award but said the team had a lot of work to do before they faced their nemesis Malawi.
“We played hard but, unfortunately, we also made too many errors,” Mostert said.
“We really want to improve on that, so we will go back to the drawing board tomorrow.”
Kotze focussed on the positives and said it was wonderful to hear the near-capacity crowd raising the roof.
“It was so fantastic to hear the crowd chanting and singing and it will take more than this match to ruin my day,” said the birthday girl.
“This match against Zambia was not exactly what we expected after watching them play on Wednesday.
“They came out hard and were totally unpredictable.
“Their short passes were hard to intercept and it was very clever instruction from their coaches to read our style of defence.”
Kotze said she was proud the Proteas pulled through for the victory in the end.
“The girls worked very hard out there today especially our defence,” she said.
“I was extremely proud of Adele Niemand, our goal keeper.
“It is most difficult to defend the short, moving, unpredictable attackers, which they played today.
“It’s also still a blow for us not to have Chrisna Bootha healthy, but I think she will be ready to go out on the court tomorrow evening as she gives the attacking side huge confidence.
“Their man-to-man defence paid off for Zambia and they sometimes got the better of us but we pulled through and survived in the end.”
Earlier, Malawi beat Botswana 63-29 in a match which was also not as one-sided as the score implied.
South Africa play Malawi on Friday night, while Botswana face Zambia in the earlier match. - Sapa