Spirits are high in both camps ahead of the SPAR Challenge international netball series between the SPAR Proteas and the Vitality Roses at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town this weekend.
The teams last met in the bronze medal play off at the Netball World Cup in Liverpool in July. England won that match 58-42.
Both teams have new coaches, with Dorette Badenhorst taking over from the great Australian coach, Norma Plummer and Jess Thirlby replacing Tracy Neville and both coaches will be trying out new combinations as they start preparations for the World Cup in Cape Town in 2023.
“We’re very excited about this series,” said Badenhorst.
“It’s a new beginning – new coaches and new teams. As far as the SPAR Proteas are concerned, we will be building on what we learned from Norma Plummer. But I believe I can add to that – I have some ideas of my own and I believe I can bring something new to the team,” she said.
“All the players in the team played in the Africa Cup, but for some of them it will be the first time they face a top team like England. We aim to win the series but it also gives me an opportunity to see how some of the young players respond to pressure.
“It is a ranking competition, and we want to improve our ranking.”
South Africa are currently ranked fifth and England are ranked third.
Thirlby said the rivalry between the SPAR Proteas and the Vitality Roses was rapidly becoming one of the great modern rivalries.
“I think this Test series is a win-win situation. We are determined to win, but whatever happens, we will have learned a lot by the time we get onto the plane to go home,” said Thirlby.
“We have six players who have never played against South Africa and some of them have never played a Test outside England so they will benefit from the experience.
“It will be our first Test series since the World Cup. We had a tour of Australia and New Zealand at about the time of the Africa Cup, but we played Australia A and New Zealand A rather than the national teams.”
“We are so excited about this series,” said SPAR Proteas captain Bongi Msomi.
“We have lost some senior players. Erin Burger and Maryka Holtzhausen have retired and Karla Pretorius was not available but we have some very good players who have the opportunity to step up to the next level.
“Our aim in each match is consistency – we can’t afford to fall behind in a single quarter.”
Asked whether the SPAR Proteas had been offered any incentive to do well in the series, Msomi said the players were not motivated by the thought of a financial incentive.
“It’s not about playing for money – it is about doing well and empowering each other. We believe we can compete against the best and that it what we are aiming to do.”
“It is a tremendous privilege to be playing in the city that will host the 2023 World Cup,” said Vitality Roses captain Natalie Haythornthwaite.
“We have great respect for the SPAR Proteas and we are looking forward to testing ourselves against them. I think it is going to be a brilliant series.
“We have a team of all shapes and sizes and I think we can deal with anything they throw at us,” she said.
The first Test will be played at the Bellville Velodrome at 7pm on Saturday. It will be preceded by a match between the SPAR Baby Proteas and Lesotho.
The other matches are at 3pm on Saturday and 1pm on Sunday, with the SPAR Baby Proteas and Lesotho playing curtain raisers on both days.