Auckland, New Zealand – The SPAR Proteas have had a strong hit out against the New Zealand A side in Auckland tonight, ahead of a blockbuster start to the international Netball Quad Series this weekend.

SPAR Proteas consultant coach Norma Plummer took the opportunity to play all 12 of her touring players in their first training match on New Zealand soil, two days after arriving in the country.

It was an invaluable dress rehearsal for the world No. 5 team before they play world champions, the Australian Diamonds, in the first test of the much anticipated doubleheader at Vector Arena in Auckland on Saturday, directly before the host side, the Silver Ferns, take on the English Roses.

Although the score-line in tonight’s unofficial match was not critical, the two sides were level-pegging 28-28 at halftime, with New Zealand A – which included former Silver Ferns Cat Tuivaiti and Ellen Halpenny – eventually winning 59-49.

“We really shook the cobwebs out tonight,” Plummer says.  “New Zealand put out a strong side and the game has given us plenty of things we can work on.

“I got everyone on court, and I didn’t keep any one combination on for the whole game. It’s important that they quickly learn to cope with changes – if there’s an injury, they have to slot in straight away.”

Plummer was more than happy with the way the SPAR Proteas responded to the swift pace and the zone defense of the New Zealanders.

“I was glad New Zealand put the zone on, and that we handled it,” says Plummer, in her second international season coaching the South African side.

“The Proteas are great athletes, and a very happy group together. They just need the opportunities to play at this level. It’s our aim to teach them to sustain the effort and to challenge, to keep coming back.”

The team were rocked when they lost their captain and experienced goal attack Maryke Holtzhausen with an ACL injury during the SPAR national championships in Durban two weeks ago. “But we have some new leadership in the team, and they are already doing a good job,” Plummer says.

The new SPAR Proteas captain, Bongi Msomi, also relished the chance to play a top New Zealand side before the Quad Series begins in Auckland on Saturday.  “The New Zealanders were well trained, well prepared, fast and physical. It was a great opportunity to play against this style before we play the top teams in the world,” she says.

“We are coming together as a team – we have been really trying to work well together in our trainings. Now we know we need to be consistent, and where we have been doing well, we need to do it more. We need to do more on defence, where there were a lot of opportunities missed, and when you get a turnover, you have to control it. It’s all about the team work.”

The SPAR Proteas will have another training game on Thursday against an invitational side coached by former Silver Ferns coach Yvonne Willering, before having a walk-through at Vector Arena on Friday.