The Proteas went down 51-46 to the New Zealand Silver Ferns on Thursday. Photo: Darren England/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – The South African netball team came painstakingly close to beating New Zealand for the first time since the 1995 World Championships on Thursday night, but still managed to go down by their smallest losing margin of five points against the Silver Ferns in 22 years.

The Proteas came into the match quietly confident of claiming their first victory over the New Zealanders, but to do that, they needed to be accurate to upset the world number-two side.

There were moments of surging optimism they may pull a rabbit out of a hat by reducing the deficit to two points in the third quarter, before going down 51-46.

They somehow let it slip to a seven-point difference before going into the final period 39-34 down.

The home side launched an impressive final surge as they got within three points and threatened to make the breakthrough. 

Lapses in concentration ultimately saw their hopes of a famous victory deteriorate, and they would have to go back to the drawing board for a victory over the old foes. 

South Africa last beat New Zealand at the 1995 World Championships in Birmingham where they booked a place in the final losing to Australia for the silver medal. 

The gap between the two sides has since grown exponentially to the point that the Silver Ferns claimed winning margins in excess of 40 points. 

That is until last year when the Proteas started to reclaim their rightful place at the top of the world rankings with a seven-point defeat in Brisbane.

The New Zealanders should be credited for the way they boxed in South African goal shooter Lenize Potgieter blunting one of the home side’s sharpest weapons. 

Maryke Holtzhauzen played a good supporting role, with New Zealand reducing the space for Potgieter to manoeuvre in.

The Proteas made a promising start to the match, racing to a three-point lead, with the boisterous local increasing the decibels with each goal.

The Silver Ferns soon found their rhythm and taking the lead with five minutes left in the first quarter to go into the second period with a five-point lead. 

The second quarter seemed to get away from the Proteas as they allowed the tourists to gain seven points on the home side. 

South African captain Bongi Msomi moved from wing attack to centre to replace Erin Burger towards the end of the second quarter, changing the dynamics slightly. 

The hosts showed their character to get within striking distance with a strong fightback towards the final period to claim the second quarter by 12 goals to 11 to narrow the deficit to four points.

The third quarter ebbed and flowed, with the Proteas reducing New Zealand’s lead by two points, but the visitors managed to escape to go into the final period 39-34.

The Proteas again demonstrated their never-say-die attitude to get within three points, but one or two mistakes cost them, with potential intercepts going to ground. 

IOL Sport

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