Liz Watson looks to pass in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against South Africa. (Photo: Australian Diamonds)

After denying the Proteas a medal chance in a heartbreakingly close 2019 World Cup semi-final, how will the Diamonds match up against them in the Quad Series?

It’s been a long time between battles for the Australian Diamonds and South African SPAR Proteas.

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Test cancellations, and teams unable to travel too far from home, they last met at the 2019 Netball World Cup.

It was a fierce semi-final battle between the two sides, with the Diamonds barely getting over the line to claim their spot in the gold medal match.

But amongst the Australian jubilation was South African heartbreak, the Proteas playing off for their chance in a gold medal match for the first time since 1995.

The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the last time they met.

2019 World Cup: Group stages

Both the Diamonds and Proteas entered the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool as the favourites in their groups.

The Diamonds, in Group A, faced off against Zimbabwe, Northern Ireland, and Sri Lanka. Australia came into the tournament with a strong squad, fresh off winning the 2019 Quad Series.

In that series, the Diamonds handily defeated the Proteas 62-45, Gretel Bueta (30 goals from 32 attempts) and Liz Watson (24 feeds, 17 goal assists) starring.

And that dominance continued in the World Cup, making it through the group stage without much trouble. They would win their three group games by an average of 58 goals.

This included a Caitlin Thwaites shooting masterclass against Sri Lanka, scoring 67 goals at 99 per cent accuracy, with 20 alone in the second quarter. Kelsey Browne was responsible for feeding most of those, with a stunning 43 goal assists from her 48 feeds.

Australian Diamonds shooter Caitlin Thwaites lines up a shot against Sri Lanka at the 2019 Netball World Cup at M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool.
Caitlin Thwaites dominated Sri Lanka in the shooting circle. (Photo: Australian Diamonds)

South Africa faced a tough challenge at the hands of Jamaica, but ultimately also came away from their group undefeated.

Lenize Potgeiter played herself into strong form, scoring 111 goals across the group matches. She formed a deadly shooting combination with Sigrid Burger, the pair combining for 65 goals against Fiji.

And while goalkeeper Phumza Maweni couldn’t quite contain Jhaniele Fowler in the match against Jamaica, against Fiji she had five gains, three deflections and two intercepts.

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2019 World Cup: The semi-final

Qualifying at the top of their groups, the Diamonds and Proteas were set to face off in the semi-final.

While the Proteas looked lively early, with Karla Pretorius and Maweni defending Thwaites and Bueta closely, their Australian opponents broke through to take a 14-10 first quarter lead.

Liz Watson was key to this, turning nine of her first quarter feeds into goal assists. Jamie-Lee Price engaged in a fierce battle with wing attack Bongiwe Msomi, the two covering plenty of distance on the court.

Price finished the quarter with two intercepts, getting back to help her defence, while limiting Msomi to just two goal assists.

The Diamonds extended their lead further into the second, winning the term 17-13 to take an eight goal half time lead.

This time it was Bueta who stood up in the circle, nailing all 11 of her shooting attempts. Watson continued in her attacking ways, this time turning eight of her 10 feeds into goal assists.

Erin Burger was essential to South Africa’s offensive ball movement, with 11 feeds and nine goal assists of her own.

It was a treat for fans of the Suncorp Super Netball – with Burger playing for the Queensland Firebirds at the time – watching a familiar match up between her and NSW Swift Paige Hadley.

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The Proteas began their charge in the third term, winning it by four goals and dwindling the lead down to a more achievable one.

Potgeiter got off the leash of Sarah Klau, scoring 11 goals from her 12 attempts and picking up two rebounds to go with it.

Kelsey Browne entered the game at wing attack, but Khanyisa Chawane got the better of her as she also took over the wing defence bib, replacing Shadine van der Merwe.

The game would come right down to the wire, but the Diamonds ultimately held on by just two goals to get their chance at a gold medal against New Zealand. Though they came away with silver, it was still a hugely successful tournament for Australia.

South Africa couldn’t continue its momentum into the bronze medal match against England though, losing by 16 goals and dropping their best chance at a medal in nearly 30 years.

Quad Series squads

There are faces new and old for the Diamonds in the Quad Series in comparison to this match-up.

While Steph Wood and Bueta will return as the experienced shooting heads, both Thwaites and Caitlin Bassett will not, with the former retired and the latter not selected.

Taking their place will be the relative inexperience of Sophie Garbin, Cara Koenen, and Sophie Dwyer. All three are proven shooters at Super Netball level, including the teenage Dwyer, but they don’t currently have more than a handful of national caps between them.

The midcourt has lost Browne and April Brandley (who only played a combined 16 minutes), but gains Ash Brazill in her Diamonds return.

In circle defence, Sarah Klau and Courtney Bruce are now joined by Maddy Turner, with the Klau and Turner pairing the current reigning SSN champion defence.

For the Proteas shooting group, Maryka Holtzhausen announced her retirement shortly after the tournament, while Sigrid Burger returns. Burger didn’t play a minute of court time in the semi final, but will likely get more opportunity this time around.

Van der Merwe departs the midcourt group, with the Proteas bringing four midcourters to London. Erin Burger also retired after the 2019 season.

Maweni will continue to shore up the defence, with Pretorius unavailable due to pregnancy. It will likely be a largely new look circle defence, with Zanele Vimbela not playing any minutes in that semi-final. Simone Rabie, Nicola Smith and Monique Reyneke make up the rest of the defenders.

The Diamonds and Proteas go head-to-head at 1am AEDT, on Monday January 17.

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