Johannesburg — As the SPAR Proteas prepare for the Netball World Cup (NWC) in Liverpool in July, they can take some confidence from the knowledge that they are the only country, apart from Australia and New Zealand, to have reached the final of the world competition.
South Africa achieved this in 1995 on their return to the World Netball Championships after 25 years of sporting isolation.
They came up against the 1991 silver medallists, New Zealand, in the first round. It was a hard-fought match from which South Africa emerged victorious by the narrow margin of 59 goals to 57.
South Africa topped Group B and went through the second round unbeaten and then met Australia in the final.
The Aussie Diamonds proved a bridge too far, and the netballers' hopes of following in the footsteps of the rugby Springboks, who had won the Rugby World Cup earlier in the year, came crashing down as Australia won 68-48.
However, the New Zealand Silver Ferns have generally proved to be too much for the Proteas in world competitions. In the first Netball World tournament in Eastbourne in England in 1963, the Silver Ferns thrashed the South Africans 60-13. The 1967 meeting was much closer - New Zealand beating South Africa 41-39. New Zealand finished second in the competition and South Africa third.
In Christchurch in 1999, New Zealand and South Africa met in the first round, with the Silver Ferns beating the Proteas 63-39. New Zealand finished second and South Africa came fourth, after losing to England in the quarter-finals.
The two teams did not meet again until 2007, when the Silver Ferns totally outplayed the Proteas in Auckland, winning their quarter-final match by 82 goals to 23. New Zealand once again finished second, whole South Africa dropped to sixth place, behind Malawi.
In Singapore, in 2011, the Silver Ferns and the Proteas once again met in the quarter-finals, with the Silver Ferns winning 58-28. New Zealand came agonisingly close to breaking Australia's domination, losing the final by one goal (57-58) and South Africa returned to fifth place, after beating Malawi 52-50.
Although New Zealand has generally held the upper hand, a much-improved Proteas side forced the Silver Ferns into extra time in their last encounter, in a Quad Series match in London. The teams were still level at the end of extra time and New Zealand won according to the Golden Goal rule, where the first team to get a two-goal lead wins. The final score was 62-60.
The Proteas will go into the Netball World Cup in Liverpool in July with an extra spring in their steps, after such a dingdong battle against the perennial World Cup silver medallists.