Cape Town — Tournament favourites Cape Winelands pulled off a Houdini act to join Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) in Saturday's final of the 2021 Spar National Netball Championships at the DF Academy, in Bellville.
The unbeaten Winelands only just survived with a last-gasp semi-final win over Johannesburg. In the other semi-final, NMB brushed the hopes of Cape Town A aside with a well-taken 47-35 win.
In the absence of perennial champions Tshwane who were laid low by the pandemic, Netball South Africa will crown a new champion on Saturday.
In a drama-filled clash, Johannesburg were poised to cause an upset after they were ahead for most of the way against Winelands. Over three quarters they were leading, but the powerful Winelands delivered the coup de grace in the dying moments of the final quarter when they enjoyed the lead for the first time.
After two quarters, Johannesburg held a slender 31-29 lead, and after each bagged 14 goals in the third, the stage was set for the finale. This time Winelands imposed themselves spectacularly on the match, and their 17-goal burst saw them triumph 60-56 at the end.
Winelands coach Marchelle Maroun was highly relieved afterwards, saying Johannesburg brought all their firing power to the contest.
"It may have been that there were some over-confidence at first, and that's why it went the way it did," said Maroun. "This team has had some tough matches, and the confidence they gained from those tough matches stood them in good stead today.
"It was an excellent match for them (ahead of the final) and taught them a lesson to start faster.
"Joburg brought their A-game, and this is the sort of game you need heading into a final."
Maroun said the team will start preparing for the championship round by discussing the final composition and tactics. There is also the matter of handling pressure in the final.
"The final is about mental strength, and fortunately, we have some smart thinkers on court," said Maroun.
"We have just emerged from back-to-back tournaments, and the girls know all about finals. They have the experience, but we know what pressure comes with a final."
Johannesburg's star player Boitumelo Mahloko said it was heart-breaking that they could not make the final.
"We lacked consistency at the end, and it was heartbreaking for me," said Mahloko. "Our lack of experience showed at the end. Many in our team are playing the nationals for the first time.
"We were up against a team that was No 1 on the log, and their experience showed.
"We needed to remain calm and maintain the consistency. I just wish we could have finished it off with a win, and realise that the game is not done until the final whistle blows."
Later in the indoor venue, Cape Town held out hopes of an all-Cape final after Winelands won through, but the powerful NMB side held out for a thrilling 47-35 win. Cape Town started well, but NMB grew stronger as the game progressed. Their last-quarter performance yielded 15 goals, proved decisive in the eventual 47-35 outcome.
Earlier in the week, NMB suffered their only defeat when they went down to Winelands. They will no doubt draw a measure of hope from Johannesburg when they ponder their chances against the Winelands.