Arrogance, disrespect or tactical courage?

Australia walked that fine line but eventually summoned enough composure to survive a major South African scare and maintain their quest for a fourth straight Netball World Cup crown.

Australian coach Lisa Alexander surprised most observers by leaving four front-line players, including star shooter and captain Caitlin Bassett, on the bench for their semifinal in Liverpool.

Rest and rotation was frequent from the leading nations earlier in the tournament but a World Cup semifinal is a different prospect.


Alexander's decision to rest Bassett entirely, and not use regular starters Steph Wood, Courtney Bruce and Kelsey Browne until the second half, almost blew up in her face as South Africa twice closed to within one goal in the final quarter.

Jo Weston and Maryka Holtzhausen in action during their semifinal. Photo / Getty Images
Jo Weston and Maryka Holtzhausen in action during their semifinal. Photo / Getty Images

Norma Plummer, the legendary Australian turned South African coach, stopped short of calling the move arrogant but she was clearly not impressed.

"That's a question for Lisa. It wasn't a walk in the park after all was it," Plummer said after South Africa fell 55-53. "They were very lucky to get out of it because we had the opportunity in the last bit at one goal down but the experience of maintaining pressure at that time cost us.

"I don't usually come off the court happy after a loss but I was pretty pleased with that effort against the number one team in the world."

Australia eased to a comfortable 31-23 half time lead but were then forced to grimly hold on as South Africa's spirited comeback spurred them to win the second half by six goals.

Towering South African goal keep Phumza Maweni terrorised Australia's attacking end but errors in transition from the midcourt often squandered chances.

South African shooter Lenize Potgieter also missed two pressure attempts.

Despite the nervy finish, Alexander was quick to defend her rest and rotation tactics.


"We did not pick this team because we underestimated South Africa at all – we picked it because we felt it matched up best on them," Alexander said. "That's how much we respect them.

Australia players celebrate their semifinal win over South Africa. Photo / Getty Images
Australia players celebrate their semifinal win over South Africa. Photo / Getty Images

"We didn't deliberately put ourselves in that position but that's what happens in these games. South Africa are a great opponent and we knew they would keep going for four quarters. I'm really pleased with how our team they came through."

Alexander resisted the urge to turn to Bassett as South Africa threatened to take the match to extra time, sticking with Caitlin Thwaites, who finished with 30 from 30 attempts.

"We had Bassett on the bench ready to go just to have that experience there when it was needed but Thwaites did a magnificent job. She played beautifully; great timing, and there when we needed her."

Now the gamble has ultimately paid off, Alexander has the luxury of watching the Silver Ferns and England clash bodies knowing her squad should be much fresher for either side in tomorrow's final.

"When we played New Zealand we kept that line on so to have the opportunity to put those players out there was great before we head into tomorrow.

"Experience is a funny thing. Sometimes it plays with your mind in a negative way as well. Sometimes youth don't fear things as much. I'm backing our youth, the ones that really want to get here and fight to play for their country."

The Diamonds won the last three World Cups but, after being upstaged on home court at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year, they are determined to reinforce their status.