“So near and yet so far,” sighed centre Erin Burger, after England beat the SPAR Proteas 62-46 in their last qualifying match at the Netball World Cup in Sydney on Friday.
South Africa looked a different team from the one that lost 66-31 to world champions Australia on Thursday.
The Proteas came out fighting, and at one stage, were three goals ahead of England early in the first quarter. But England regained control and by the end of the quarter, were 16-8 ahead.
The Proteas stuck to the game plan of short, sharp passes instead of the long looping passes they had resorted to against Australia and the tactic worked well, keeping them in the game.
In the second quarter, England outscored the Proteas by just three goals, and were 32-18 ahead at half time.
South Africa dominated in the third quarter, which they won 15-14.
Coach Norma Plummer replaced wing attack Bongi Msomi with Izette Lubbe. Msomi, normally one of the stars of the team, had an off night, and lost a number of balls with poor passes, but Lubbe added stability to the team with her physical presence.
Maryke Holtzhausen scored some audacious goals from near the edge of the circle and 21-year-old Lenise Potgieter continued to impress, scoring 35 goals from 38 attempts.
South African hopes were raised after the impressive third quarter, but the damage had been done in the first quarter, and although the Proteas fought hard to the end, they were unable to overcome the deficit.
Plummer said she was very proud of the team after their performances against the world number one and the world number three teams.
“They were very nervous the other day against Australia, but we got into it from the first whistle today,” she said.
“Bongi had a bit of an up-and-down game. I can’t put my finger on why, but it gave me the opportunity to put Izette out there. She did a marvelous job, because she was able to take physical knocks and she lifted the team. I think she made the difference in the third quarter.”
Plummer said she was very proud that South Africa has the highest number of intercepts in the tournament so far, with goal defence Karla Mostert the highest intercept taker.
“She’s an excellent player and I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to coach her,” she said.
South Africa finished third in their group and will play Uganda on Saturday, to determine who will play in the fifth place play-off on Sunday. If they win, they are likely to play Malawi, in a repeat of the last World Cup, where South Africa finished fifth.
“Uganda are not going to be easy, because they have been improving throughout the tournament,” said Plummer.
“Nevertheless, I believe we can beat them.”