Plummer’s Proteas Starting to Bloom
In 2015, as the Spar Proteas netball team were about to run onto court against their arch-rivals, the Malawi team, the Proteas’ Australian coach, Norma Plummer, said to them, “This is where you find out who your friends in the trenches are.” Make no mistake, netball is war in Plummer’s mind.
The legend of Australian netball takes to the court with one purpose in mind: to win. If you’re not going to win, then your opponents will at least know they’ve been through a hell of a fight for their victory.
Plummer coaches the Spar Proteas in the same tough-as-nails manner that saw her lead world champions Australia to two World Championship titles. She has received death threats in her career, and she has been likened to Sir Alex Ferguson in her relentless pursuit for perfection, but she is always fair. She may not smile very often, but she has a soft spot for a good Chardonnay. More than anything though, what Plummer has brought into the Proteas team is far more than just a better game plan and skills.
There is a self-confidence among the Proteas that is actually bordering on a bit of a swagger. Whereas before they took on the top teams such as Australia, New Zealand, and England with trepidation, they now take to the court looking forward to doing what they do so well: being a problem for the world’s best. “I certainly know now that Australia, New Zealand, and England don’t see South Africa as a pushover anymore,” says Plummer.
She is realistic enough to know that the Proteas are not going to suddenly start beating the aforementioned top teams on a regular basis, but the margin of victory that these teams have enjoyed in the past is closing. “My expectation is that we keep challenging and improving. I don’t want to be taking a step backward. I think we’re the sort of team now that is versatile enough to take on any challenge. And if we don’t get challenged, we don’t improve.”
One player who has relished Plummer’s input is defender Karla Mostert. Since Plummer has been working with the Proteas, Mostert has gone on to play in the top leagues in England and Australia, and is now recognised as one of the best defenders in world netball. “As a player, you want to improve all the time and you can never learn enough. Since Norma joined, we’ve just improved with every tournament, and netball in South Africa is really moving forward,” Mostert says.
Plummer also sees a depth in talent in South Africa that she feels is almost unrivalled. “The basis is there. As individual athletes, they’re just sensational. The challenge has been more to get the combinations working on court. It’s that extra 1% you’re looking for against the top teams.”
There is no doubt that there is a sense internationally that the Proteas are the team to watch. Even as early in the Plummer era as the 2015 Netball World Cup in Sydney, this was becoming evident.
After the Proteas were beaten by Australia, Australian goal shooter, Caitlin Thwaites, said, “I think if this South African team continues to build over the next couple of years, we could be in trouble.” Now that does bring a smile to Plummer’s face.