Silver Ferns 63 South Africa 56
The new-look Silver Ferns have made a circumspect start to the international season, opening their Quad Series campaign with a shaky seven-goal win over South Africa.
The Proteas, one of the big improvers in world netball over the past 18 months, proved a difficult opponent for the Ferns to unpick.
In a match reminiscent of their meeting in Hamilton in last year's inaugural Quad Series, the Proteas pushed the Ferns hard over the first half but became scrappier as the match wore on.
The South African side, led by former Australian coach Norma Plummer, trailed by just one goal at the long break and had the New Zealand defenders scratching their heads at times. But the South Africans were unable to maintain that level of intensity for the full 60 minutes.
A series of changes to the Ferns line-up, including the introduction of dynamic midcourter Whitney Souness for her international debut, proved the spark for the New Zealand resurgence as they turned a narrow 31-30 halftime advantage into a more comfortable 51-42 lead heading into the final turn.
Souness, who became Silver Fern number 167 when she took the court in the third quarter, was impressive on debut, hitting the circle edge with ease and providing deft feeds into shooters Bailey Mes and Maria Tutaia, who both returned good numbers.
Mes was on track to finish with a perfect 100 per cent record until she missed her final shot of the match from long-range in the dying seconds. Her return of 35/36 was still one of her most impressive international outings to date.
Silver Ferns skipper Katrina Grant, who plays alongside Souness at the Pulse in the ANZ Premiership, said the youngster's performance was one of the major positives the team will take from the match.
"She was absolutely outstanding, she came on and did not look out of place at all, so she is one for the future for sure," said Grant.
Grant was disappointed with her side's lack of consistency in what was a rusty start to the season. Having done well to absorb the early pressure from the Proteas and push out to a healthy nine-goal lead at three quarter time, there will be some frustration in the New Zealand camp that their execution fell away in a scrappy final quarter.
South Africa won the final spell 14-12, as defenders Karla Mostert and Precious Mthembu, had a lot of success in disrupting the Ferns attacking combinations.
"There's a lot to improve on, a lot to learn from that but South Africa came out really strong and we really had to grind things out," said Grant.
In the Quad Series opener, Australia battled to a 54-50 win over England after floundering down the home stretch. The Diamonds held commanding a 10-goal lead at halftime, but changes to both the attacking and defensive lines disrupted Australia's rhythm and the English took advantage.
But when the opportunities came to land the knock-out blow over the latter stages of the match, the Roses wilted and the Australians escaped with an untidy win in Caitlin Bassett's first game as skipper.
The Ferns will next take on England in Auckland on Wednesday night, while South Africa meet Australia in Canberra.