Proteas ready to face best-of-the-best

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - OCK­ERT DE VIL­LIERS LUN­GANI ZAMA

LOOK­ING FOR­WARD: Proteas cap­tain Bongiwe Msomi will lead the team in the Quad Se­ries and is look­ing for­ward to chal­leng­ing the top three sides in the world on home soil. IT’S the “big­gest event” Net­ball South Africa (NSA) have hosted and the Proteas hope to cel­e­brate it in fine style over the next five days.

The Quad Se­ries, which also fea­tures Eng­land, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, be­gins to­mor­row in Dur­ban.

The Proteas are yet to win a match in the com­pe­ti­tion fol­low­ing the first two legs held in Aus­tralia and New Zealand in Au­gust last year.

But NSA chief ex­ec­u­tive Blanche de la Guerra said: “I’m so ex­cited and proud that we can host the best net­ball play­ers in the world and it is so won­der­ful to watch them on court.

“This is the big­gest event (NSA) will be play­ing hosts to.”

Last year the South African women suf­fered a se­ries-open­ing de­feat of 68-43 to Aus­tralia be­fore los­ing 65-46 to world No 2 New Zealand, and 57-44 to the Eng­land Roses.

South Africa will open the home­leg against Eng­land to­mor­row and will be look­ing to build on the pos­i­tive start they made against the Roses in their pre­vi­ous clash in Mel­bourne.

The Proteas led the world No 3 na­tion af­ter the first quar­ter be­fore Eng­land caught up and took the lead to claim vic­tory.

Na­tional cap­tain Bongi Msomi said the team had been work­ing hard get­ting the com­bi­na­tions work­ing as a unit each time they spend time on the court.

“For the SPAR Proteas it is al­ways cru­cial that we go on court per­form­ing at our best. We’ve been work­ing so hard in try­ing to gel as a team, so we are look­ing for­ward to grow­ing in­stead of go­ing back­wards,” Msomi said.

“It is al­ways a priv­i­lege to play against the best in the world, and we are def­i­nitely look­ing for­ward to the Quad Se­ries.

“Not to try and catch up but to im­prove our own game, we’ve been do­ing that but we are look­ing for con­sis­tency in do­ing well.”

Proteas coach Norma Plum­mer of Aus­tralia said, al­though the na­tional team faced the added pres­sure of per­form­ing in front of a home crowd, they had their sights firmly set on clos­ing the gap on the top three sides in the world.

“You can play teams ranked lower than you and get a win or you can get out and get chal­lenged all the time,” Plum­mer said.

“If they don’t get chal­lenged, they don’t im­prove, so we know Aus­tralia, Eng­land and New Zealand have beaten South Africa by 35 or 55 goals in the past.

“In the last Quad Se­ries we were able to lower that, and our chal­lenge is to keep low­er­ing it and keep chal­leng­ing.”

Aus­tralia and New Zealand will face-off in the first match to­mor­row. The fi­nal round of the South African leg is on Tues­day. INEVITABLY, the early run­ning at the SA Women’s Open has been made by the name that was on ev­ery­one’s lips be­fore the start of the tour­na­ment, as it was last year, and just about ev­ery other year LeeAnne Pace has en­tered.

Yes­ter­day, Pace shot an omi­nous six-un­der par 66 at San Lameer Coun­try Club, to vault to a two-stroke lead over Monique Smit on four-un­der, and Stacy Breg­man who is a fur­ther shot back at three­un­der.

Pace, who is chas­ing her third ti­tle in her na­tional Open, started off in the best pos­si­ble fash­ion, as she rolled in a birdie on her first hole of the day, to sig­nal her in­ten­tions.

A trio of birdies on the third, fourth and fifth holes saw Pace leap out in front.

Her tee-shot on the short third em­pha­sised just how well Pace is strik­ing her irons at the mo­ment, and she will take some stop­ping if she main­tains the crisp­ness of her ball-strik­ing.

By the time she reached the turn, South Africa’s lead­ing women’s golfer was al­ready at five un­der, scorch­ing the open­ing half in just 31 shots. With tem­per­a­tures ris­ing, Pace slowed her charge on the tighter home­ward nine, pick­ing up a birdie on the 12th hole, be­fore giv­ing one back on the 16th hole, with an er­rant teeshot cost­ing her an im­mac­u­late card on the day.

But, such is the form and frame of mind that Pace is in, she made al­most im­me­di­ate amends for the er­ror on the fi­nal hole of the day, with a birdie on the 18th.

It was a fit­ting end to what had been a ter­rific dis­play of ball-strik­ing from the cham­pion, and her ri­vals would be ex­cused for al­ready hav­ing an air of in­evitabil­ity in their thoughts.

Of course, a lot can still hap­pen over the next 36 holes, and the winds that can sweep through at San Lameer have yet to make a proper visit. Pace had things mostly her own way yes­ter­day, and she will rise to­day look­ing to fur­ther con­sol­i­date a near per­fect start to what has be­come an as­sault, rather than just a de­fence of her ti­tle.

Be­hind her, Smit will hope to keep the pres­sure on, while Breg­man’s pedi­gree in high-pro­file events is well known. Some­one will have to take the fight to Pace to give her some­thing to think about it head­ing into the week­end.

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