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Silver Ferns get the upper hand over South Africa

The Silver Ferns produced a confidence-boosting 54-43 win over South Africa to gain their first success at the Netball Quad Series, in London on Wednesday.

Coming into the match, both sides remained winless after losses to Australia and England, and will now meet again in the play-off for third tomorrow (Thursday, 6.30am NZ time).

It wasn’t a clinical performance from the Silver Ferns but it was a step in the right direction from a new-look team with the focus on finding the formula heading towards the Commonwealth Games in six months, new combinations and personnel getting their opportunity to press their claims.

“We came out with a win and that’s always a good thing,” Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua said afterwards.

“There were some good patches. Defensively, we turned over some good ball but what I’m a bit disappointed about is our basic skills sets, and on that front, we need to be better. Even though we did win, I thought we should have won by more.”

There were four personnel changes to the starting seven for the Silver Ferns, including five positional. The tall frame of teenaged shooter Grace Nweke earned her first start in the black dress with Maia Wilson picking up the goal attack role, Shannon Saunders got her first start of the series, at centre, with Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick uniting as the in-circle defensive pairing.

It was another learning experience for both sides, inspiring midcourt captain Bongiwe Msomi lining up in her 137th appearance for the Proteas who were also missing some familiar faces.

The early exchanges were highlighted by a rash of turnovers by both sides, the attack ends taking time to settle before the Silver Ferns took a grip on proceedings.

Errors continued to thwart the Proteas before reliable shooter Ine-Mari Venter helped close the gap ahead of the Silver Ferns talking a 15-9 lead at the first break.

The Silver Ferns defensive trio, with Karin Burger playing against her country of birth, put the squeeze on the Proteas attacking line on the resumption as they looked to up the tempo.

Exciting shooting prospect Tiana Metuarau was injected after six minutes, her playmaking skills coming to the fore with immediate effect and her ability to get quick ball to Nweke.

The 1.93m Nweke was a constant thorn for South Africa, stationed under the hoop, strong feeds from Metuarau and Saunders regularly finding their target as the Silver Ferns shot out to a 31-19 lead at the main break. With 21 from 22, it was Nweke’s highest international return.

Energetic and lively midcourter Mila Reuelu-Buchanan became Silver Fern #181 when making her debut, at centre, at the start of the second half, adding extra spark to leave an impressive imprint.

The Silver Ferns snuffed out a strong start by the Proteas to retain the ascendancy during the third quarter which, again, produced a mix of free-flowing play along with a number of cheap turnovers.

The Proteas continued to struggle to penetrate the masterful full-court defensive play on show from the Silver Ferns, with Burger, Karaka and Fitzpatrick combining expertly to pick up the spoils as the New Zealanders kept their opponents to single figure returns.

Metuarau was in the thick of action both on attack and defensively while highlighting her playmaking skills as the Silver Ferns headed into the last break with a 43-28 lead.

Wilson returned for the last quarter while Samantha Winders was injected at wing defence for Burger as 10 of the Silver Ferns got a run during match.