England’s hopes of claiming their first Quad Series title appear in tatters after South Africa tore up the script at London’s Copper Box Arena.
From the high of a repeat 13-goal drubbing of New Zealand in Liverpool last week to this shock 48-45 loss to outsiders South Africa, England now face the daunting prospect of not only having to defeat Australia on Sunday but needing to do so by at least five goals to have any chance of achieving Quad Series history.
South Africa lost the opening match of this tournament 62-45 to Australia. Here they were a different team; all over England from the outset to turn all permutations on their head. The South Africans led by four at half-time and expertly held their composure despite raucous local support.
This result leaves Australia, who hung on 53-50 to hand New Zealand successive defeats, in pole position with a 10-goal advantage over England. Perhaps England were guilty of complacency; of glancing ahead to the Australian challenge. England found themselves behind throughout and were frequently rattled.
The normally composed shooter Jo Harten (18/22) botched the odd sitter from under the hoop and spilt the ball on another occasion. Jade Clarke had one pass tipped near the death. Others took turns remonstrating with the officials as frustrations bubbled to the surface.
The England coach, Tracey Neville, lamented a poor defensive start and squandered possession which allowed South Africa’s confidence to grow, but offered no excuses for her side’s poor performance.
“The girls played an outstanding match last Sunday. They’ve had plenty of rest coming into this series. What it shows to them is world-class teams need to constantly keep coming out with stellar performances. We learned a big lesson today but it’s better to learn it now than later,” Neville said. “There were times we could have won that game so I’ve got to look at our own performance.”
South Africa had beaten England 13 times previously – the last a three-goal Quad Series win two years ago in New Zealand – but the hosts, now Commonwealth Games champions, were widely expected to comfortably pull away.
“You never want to lose but if they can’t pick themselves up for another day tomorrow then they’re not world-class players,” Neville added. “This is a test of character – it’s about mental and physical strength.”
Australia are missing star shooter and captain Caitlin Bassett with a broken forearm, and wing defence Gabi Simpson due to a leg injury, yet after two straight wins they are now firm favourites. England will need every soul in what will be a sold-out arena to take the title for the first time.
The Australia coach, Lisa Alexander, turned up the heat on England too. “The pressure is right on England,” she said. “They’ve beaten New Zealand by 13 and we’ve beaten them by three so the pressure is on them.”
The South African coach and former Australian mentor, Norma Plummer, predicts those in green and gold will emerge victorious. “I reckon the Aussies will take it,” she said.