Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Dominant Sunshine Girls have Uganda in firing line

Published:Monday | July 31, 2023 | 12:07 AMPaul-Andre Walker/Sports Editor
Jodi-Ann Ward, Player of the Match.
Jodi-Ann Ward, Player of the Match.
Connie Francis, head coach of the Sunshine Girls.
Connie Francis, head coach of the Sunshine Girls.

JAMAICA’S SUNSHINE Girls will not have too much time to celebrate topping Pool C of the Netball World Cup, ongoing in Cape Town, South Africa, with the test of Uganda and New Zealand fast approaching.

Yesterday, the Sunshine Girls maintained their unbeaten run with a 67-49 victory over hosts South Africa at the Cape Town International Convention Centre Arena 1 on the back of a stifling third-quarter defensive effort.

The Jamaicans, who were being hounded by a physical South Africa unit for the first two quarters (16-12, 32-26), restricted the Proteas to just three goals in a third stanza, where they managed to score 19.

Of course, the hosts rebounded in a fourth quarter where Jamaica used the entire bench in a rotation that failed to take the sting out of the devastating third stanza.

“In order for us to finish this competition on top, we are going to have to use all 12 players, so I think it was good that we got everyone out on court and we were able to execute. We did have some lulls in that fourth quarter, but I think we executed and held the margin, and we will definitely need that as we go into the other rounds because it will only get harder,” said Jodi-Ann Ward, the game’s player of the match.

Ward moved from goal defence to wing defence for the second half, switching places with Latanya Wilson to brilliant effect.

The move meant the South African shooters, who were shooting almost lights out up to that point, were starved of possession, and Ward was happy to see the versatility in defence come to the fore.

“Our defensive end, thankfully, is very versatile, and we are not glued to either position, wing defence or goal defence, and I think when we went back out there, we knew exactly what we needed to do. We just needed to change it up a bit, and we did that. I thought that we remained calm as a unit and we executed when we needed to. We needed to get more pressure on them,, and I thought that everyone played their role very well and we got there in the end,” said Ward.

But Ward, and coach Connie Francis, know all too well that while the South Africa team was a threat, there will be stiffer tests to come.

“The aim for now is just to execute and take it one game at a time. The camp is very positive in that we know what we have to do and we’re capable of getting the job done. We are just taking it one step at a time. The energy in the camp is not much different from the Commonwealth Games energy, which is a great place to be right now.

“We still have a few more boxes to tick in terms of execution and how we want to go about the rest of the tournament, but so far, so good. I think we are on the right track.”

Jamaica mined a historic silver medal at the Commonwealth Games last year, beating Australia and defending World Champions New Zealand on the way to the final where they lost to the former.

Still, there were some unpleasant memories for the Sunshine Girls to erase, having lost to South Africa in the 2019 edition of the Netball World Cup.

“This South Africa game was a test for us. It was a box we definitely needed to tick. We didn’t perform well against them at the last World Cup, so it was important to get over the line and tick this box. Now, we are just focusing on the next game,” said Ward.

For Francis, handling the physicality of South Africa was very important.

“It was important to see how we contended body on body. We go up against Uganda tomorrow, and it is the same body on body,” said Francis, who went on to say that it would be different against New Zealand who are a more zonal-marking team defensively.

“I am so proud of all these players, just the energy and tenacity, the way they approached the game, just to say, ‘we want this one’,” Francis said beaming.

The veteran coach had long put the 2019 defeat to South Africa to the back of her mind and is completely focused on the next challenges this World Cup is sure to throw up.

“This is not 2019. We were confident,” said Francis, before sounding a warning to all comers that the Sunshine Girls intend on being tough nuts to crack.

“Anybody comes, they’ll have to go through us, and it won’t be easy.”

Jamaica play against Uganda at 9 a.m, Jamaica time.

Daniel Wheeler ( contributed to this story