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Zanele Vimbela

South Africa edged past Scotland to take gold on home soil in the SPAR Diamond Challenge in Pretoria and there were plenty of Netball Super League stars on show. 

The Proteas were pushed all the way by the Thistles in the decider, going in just four ahead at the break, but were eventually too strong and ran out 54-36 winners in a thrilling contest. 

A combined 14 Super League players took to the court in the showpiece, with many others in action throughout the tournament. 

Here are our key takeaways from an excellent few days of netball in South Africa. 

Performances aplenty from Proteas 

Super League fans had a chance to catch a glimpse of South African stars old and new over the past few days, as the Proteas took gold in the SPAR Diamond Challenge. 

Loughborough Lightning’s Zanele Vimbela started at goal defence for the hosts, with Manchester Thunder’s Shadine van der Merwe combining at wing defence to form an imperious Super League rearguard. 

At the other end, there was another chance to see Thunder’s new goal shooter Lenize Potgieter in action while Saracens Mavericks’ Ine-Mari Venter named best shooter of the tournament.

There were plenty of other new faces too, with Mavericks’ Monique Meyer and Leeds Rhinos’ new duo Nicola Smith and Elmere van den Berg giving fans a preview of their talent. 

Thunder strikes in South Africa  

Thunder’s new recruit Potgieter linked up with her new clubmate Van der Merwe for South Africa, the former making her international return after two years away.  

Van der Merwe marked her 30th birthday in style with a Player of the Match performance as the Proteas defeated Presidents’ XII 59-34. 

The duo faced off against another new teammate Iona Christian in the final, who started at wing attack for Scotland and captained her country in their narrow 49-48 defeat to Presidents’ XII. 

The mid-courter shone for Wasps last season before making the move north to champions Thunder, and carried that form to South Africa, as she was named Best Centre Court of the tournament.

Lots of learnings for the Thistles  

While Scotland are returning with a silver medal, head coach Tamsin Greenway believes there is plenty they can take away from the series.  

“We’ve come here for lots of different reasons. One was to challenge South Africa and I think we did that,” said the six-time Super League winner. 

“We wanted to expose players against the President’s XII, we did that, but we came out on the losing side.  

“You can give as many tactics as you want and have as good a culture as you want – and we have a good one – but you only understand what it’s like in those pressure situations, to take the lead and push on, to win the ball and to punish an opposition by being out there and doing it.   

That is exactly what we’ve learnt this week. I’ve said to them that this exposure, this tour has taught us so much about who can impact, who can take on the game and we showed some fighting grit.”  

Sirens on song 

It might not have been the final result Scotland wanted, but there was plenty for Scotland and Strathclyde Sirens fans to get excited about ahead of the return of the Netball Super League in February. 

Claire Maxwell was crowned Player of the Match in the final despite the Proteas’ win while five of the seven starters in the final will line up for Sirens next season.

Youngsters Rachel Conway, 21, Emma Barrie, 20, and Niamh McCall, 22, all proved the future is bright for Sirens and the Thistles.

Scotland and Zimbabwe play out a thriller  

Scotland secured their place in the final thanks to a nail-biting 41-41 draw with Zimbabwe, with Surrey Storm defender Felisitus Kwangwa in fine form for her country.

The Thistles started strongly, winning the first quarter 16-10 but the Gems came back to close the gap to three points at half-time.

End-to-end action saw the teams unable to be separated, with the Thistles advancing through to the final on goal difference.

It marked a much-improved showing for the Thistles, as they fought back from a difficult start to the series, losing to South Africa 61-42 and President’s XII 49-48. 

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