The money was clearly on the Diamonds to take the win against a relatively untested Silver Ferns outfit, but the Ferns turned on a promising performance with the Diamonds eventually running away five-goal winners. Coached by Noeline Taurua, the team has a very different spirit about it to the team who missed out on a medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Despite coming as close as two goals at various points during the game, it never felt like the momentum swung in the Ferns’ favour for long enough that they threatened the win. The calmness under pressure from the Diamonds ensured any run of goals were swiftly shut down.
The Diamonds were missing their starting goal attack in Steph Wood, out with an injury. Tegan Philip was brought into the team to replace her. Lisa Alexander opted to start Gretel Tippett in at goal attack for the Diamonds, a move which would prove difficult for New Zealand defenders to combat.
The Ferns midcourt had clearly done their homework and as a result they attempted to shut down Liz Watson by cutting off her leads in the midcourt. In many ways, this forced pressure on Kim Ravaillion who had been a surprise start at centre after being benched in both previous games at half time and quarter time respectively. Ravaillion was up to the challenge early, showing some of her trademark cuts and drives towards the circle edge, while Watson was able to free herself to deliver six goal assists for the first quarter.
Both Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Maria Folau were shooting confidently and accurately from distance to start the game. The frontline functioned best when Folau was running onto the ball, passing off and then taking a strong lead to offer another option. On the occasions where she failed to offer the second option, the Ferns struggled to drive forward.
Selby-Rickit appeared to struggle against the physicality of Courtney Bruce early. Bruce was not allowing Selby-Rickit much movement in the circle and was doing a stellar job of keeping her off the baseline and forcing her to shoot. To her credit, Selby-Rickit shot impressively from distance to start the game and her high release shot ensured it would not be blocked.
Despite an early intercept from Katrina Grant on an offload from Tippett to Caitlin Bassett, Jane Watson (181cm) and Grant (186cm) struggled to make many gains against the tall shooting circle of Caitlin Bassett (193cm) and Tippett (191cm). Too often, the high ball was going into Bassett and the defenders could only watch it sail over their heads. Despite having an impressive vertical leap, Grant was getting caught up in the battle with Tippett who outshone her in athleticism and speed. This took Grant out of the contest with contact and obstruction calls and did not give her the space or timing to upset the pathway into the circle.
The lack of defensive gains for the Ferns, as well as a string of turnovers, saw the Diamonds go out to a five-goal lead to end the quarter. The last goal of the quarter was a head-scratcher with the buzzer to end the quarter sounding well before the ball went through the ring for Bassett, but the goal was allowed.
Mikaela Sokolich-Beatson was having a standout game on Diamonds playmaker Watson. The pressure from both her and Laura Langman started to put pressure on the attacking structures for the Diamonds in the second quarter. Watson made some uncharacteristic errors, fumbling the ball twice and turning it over in the first five minutes. Ravaillion was being given much more space but was unable to take full advantage of it, often running straight to the circle edge without offering a second option.
Bruce continued to cause trouble for Selby-Rickit, moving her feet quickly to steal an intercept to start the quarter. Selby Rickit’s shooting from distance was sublime, but she was being marked well by Bruce and wasn’t driving onto the ball as a result. Crampton was combining well with Laura Langman in attack to deliver some well-placed feeds. Gabi Simpson had a quiet game and was unable to make much of an impact to stop Crampton’s leads.
The Diamonds defensive line picked up plenty of ball, but it was being turned over in attack. They missed several opportunities to lengthen their lead, while the Ferns were unable to string goals together convincingly when they won the ball. Despite drawing within two goals at one point, inconsistency in their attacking structures cost the Ferns at crucial times.
In one particularly messy passage of play, Crampton fumbled the ball on the centre pass and the entrails were picked up by Bruce. An off-target pass from Jo Weston was then intercepted in the midcourt by Folau who passed off to Sokolich-Beatson who then slipped on the court and was called for footwork. In attack for the Diamonds, a pass to Ravaillion in the pocket sailed out of bounds, giving the Ferns back the ball and this eventually led to a goal for Selby-Rickit. The inability of either team to hold onto turnover ball will surely be a focus for the coaches leading into the Constellation Cup.
The Ferns, despite lacking structure in attack, did manage to stay in touch with the Diamonds and drew the second quarter. An undisciplined challenge from Grant on a throw-in with seconds remaining gave Bassett a penalty shot under the post.
Liz Watson went to the bench to start the third quarter with Kelsey Browne coming on at wing attack. The half started in much the same way as the first with the Diamonds turning over the ball in their attack end, only for the Ferns to turn it back over in transition.
The momentum continued to swing with neither side able to get a run on. The vision from Browne into Bassett was impressive straight away. The change worked well for the Diamonds with Browne’s speed through the midcourt shutting down Sokolich-Beatson’s impact.
Both sides continued to turn over the ball in attack. A defensive win for the Ferns was quickly shut down by a zone-style defence from the Diamonds, halting the flow out of defence for the Ferns. Langman was left with nowhere to go. None of her teammates were running towards the ball and she threw the ball straight back into the arms of the opposition.
The lack of rebounds at both ends of the court for the Ferns will be an ongoing concern with just two for the game, compared to the Diamonds’ eight. The Diamonds slightly extended their lead to go into the last quarter up by seven goals.
Aliyah Dunn was brought on for Selby-Rickit to start the last quarter. A nervous start saw Bruce outrun her for the ball and shortly after, she was called for a contact against Bruce. The Diamonds extended their lead to a game-high ten goals. But given the topsy turvy nature of the game, it was not at all surprising when the Ferns came back at them.
The Diamonds appeared to fall off the pace coming into the last ten minutes. Dunn settled impressively and gained an upper hand on Bruce to finish the game. Once the confidence on the shot and on the hold against Bruce came for Dunn, she had the signs of a lethal player.
Too much inconsistency in attack and the difficulty in getting any ball off the impressive Diamonds shooting outfit meant the Ferns were unable to draw closer than five goals. The Diamonds eventually took the game out 60-55.
This game showed promising signs for the Ferns looking ahead to the World Cup in a year’s time. The short time they have had together leading into this series and under Taurua means they will only grow from here and the blooding of young and promising players like Dunn will increase their competitiveness.
The Diamonds will be happy to have come away with the win after a less than convincing performance by their very high standards. The rise of Bruce in the absence of the experience of Laura Geitz and Sharni Layton will be a talking point in a relatively inexperienced defensive line for the Diamonds.
Australian Diamonds 60 def Silver Ferns 55
(16-11, 30-25, 45-38, 60-55)
Player of the Match: Courtney Bruce (Australia)
Bassett 46/50 92%
Tippett 14/14 100%
Selby-Rickit 15/20 75%
Folau 30/34 88%
Dunn 10/10 100%
Langman – 25
Crampton – 19
Tippett – 17
Ravaillion – 15
Bruce – 7
Watson – 3
Sokolich-Beatson – 2
Bassett – 3
Bruce – 3
Starting line ups
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Liz Watson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q3 WA Kelsey Browne
GS Te Paea Selby-Rickit
GA Maria Folau
WA Gina Crampton
C Laura Langman
WD Michaela Sokolich-Beatson
GD Katrina Grant
GK Jane Watson
Changes: Q4 GS Aliyah Dunn, WD Karin Burger
What they said
Noeline Taurua, Silver Ferns coach
What do you take away from that match?
“Look there’s some areas that I’m really clear about in regards to when we keep ball in hand. Also probably areas where we’re exposed and overall I’m actually quite happy with it. I think we have improved since our last game.
“I thought there were some beautiful passages of play. Probably the area we didn’t handle too well and sort of became victims was the physicality, so I’d like for us to push that through a wee bit but overall you know I thought it was a great comeback. Great fight and definitely improvements from the last game against South Africa.”
Things to work on between now and the World Cup
“I still feel it’s the change of mindset. You know, with teams it’s very competitive out there and we cannot rely on the umpire call and I think for those moments where we’re getting hit, we go somewhere else. We’re becoming very reactive and what I call victim mode and so I’d like to sweep that aside. We need to expect that to happen. We need to deliver the ball and execute under pressure. The more that that happens to us and I can catch those sort of feelings then I can work that mental side of our game.
“I felt when we worked in our attacking end – when we kept ball in hand and were prepared to do the shorter movements, I thought we were very successful in that and then it opened up the space in our attacking end.
“I think defensively there were moments when we just scrapped. We fought really hard, but I also didn’t think we had purpose in some respect. So just going back to the strategy as to why we’re doing certain things. What are we trying to set up?
“All these little things are going to make a big difference the more we’re out on court and hit the training again in a couple of weeks. That’s going to be helpful for us in terms of strategy.”
On the extra height for Australia in the circle
“What we can’t do is just rely on the ball that’s going to go in circles so we need people who can hunt ball on the outside, not get fixated on the inside. I thought we did that – we got caught one-on-one sometimes and we’ve got to get off the body otherwise we’re going to get pinged. We can’t compete with that height so we’ve got to go and get the ball on the outside.”
On the introduction of Aliyah Dunn
“What I was waiting for with Te Paea was for her to work herself out of some of that physicality under the post. I thought she was at moments really nice, but also got caught up in what was happening around her.
“For Aliyah to come on, I needed a presence in the back – someone that was an easy target and close to the post and could also rebound. So I was really happy with what she did. You know – she’s 18, but man she’s built! The physicality didn’t even worry her underneath the post. She got ten out of ten which is a good start for her against a quality opposition in Courtney Bruce which is very promising. To have her in the back allowed us a bit more stability in the circle.”
Laura Langman, Silver Ferns captain
On the lack of physicality from the Ferns
“Yeah I think that would be a fair call. When it was those hard ball gets we were found wanting and looking at the umpire for a call. I think it’s our responsibility as passers and receivers to make the pass look good if it’s not quite 100% on target – to kind of rip them in or get your fingertips around the ball. It was those intangible moments that we didn’t quite clasp, but a good easy take away for me I feel that we can fix in a relatively short space of time.”
On Dunn’s performance
“Beautiful. She’s lovely. As you can tell in her demeanour, she is so calm. She took it in her stride and was a really great front target which is very easy to service the ball to. So I thought she did absolutely outstanding to come on in the fourth quarter against Australia.”
I think for me those hard ball gets. Getting there first. I felt at times the umpire would blow the whistle. We’d know what the call is, but we were kind of stuck in the mud. Just knowing – so those game smarts. So that for me is a real space where I think we can do a lot of work. We’ve all been around the game for a long time and I think we can be smart in terms of how we position ourselves to get back into play quicker, not taking three phases to get back into play.
Improvements game to game over the series
“Yes, to be fair. I think we’ve squeezed as much as we can out of every day that we’ve had here and I think if we were to describe each game I felt like England was possum in the headlights. South Africa we found our groove and I really thought tonight we showed we’re tenacious and we don’t give up and we’re willing to go the distance so I think there’s silver linings in that for sure. But I reckon it’s going to be the ability to back it up game after game like we’ve said we’re wanting our product to be.”
How do you see your own game developing?
“For me, it’s about being smart. I’m fortunate that I’ve been around the game for a long time so it’s about being really smart and what I put out there, what I put my energy into and how I recover. So I know I’m not a little whippet any more. I’m a bit of a fossil. So I’ve got to be smart with my energy, but I’m realistic about where I am and where I need to go.
“I’m always up for a challenge and there’s nothing like standing on that transverse line singing the national anthem and looking at England or Australia or South Africa. There’s no better feeling.”
Lisa Alexander, Australian Diamonds coach
Thoughts on the overall performance
“It’s great to get back on the winners’ list and to practise the sorts of things we need to do to grind out wins. It’s nothing pretty at the moment – nothing seamless, but I think the group is really building well and we’ll continue to do that over this next couple of months leading into world cup.”
Thoughts on the Silver Ferns
“I don’t think there was anything different apart from probably not as much zone as we would have thought. Perhaps that’s the influence of the Australian style with Noeline – I’m not certain. But I think that we had a bit of trouble on our turnover ball that we created so we need to go back and work on that before the next series.”
“I think overall she’s improving. Certainly in that last quarter I would have liked her to have shot more.”
Is that a confidence thing with Gretel, particularly when she was passing off in the last quarter?
“I think she was just trying to make sure that she was a bit steadier because in the third quarter there was a bit too much ball thrown away and she’s got to learn to get through that as an athlete.
“I think you can see the special things she can do. I think important for us not to put a lid on what we can create when she’s playing goal attack because I think we can change netball a little bit more and make it exciting for fans to watch. I know the traditionalists are going to not enjoy it as much but we love that ability to have a changing attack way of playing.”
On Courtney Bruce’s performance and relatively low penalty count
“We’re really pleased. In general, our defence end is keeping the penalty counts down. If you think back to two years ago or even a year ago this time I think Courtney was criticised roundly for her amount of penalties and it shows with the work that’s done and also a different way of us modelling our defence end. We’re really playing to her strengths as well as a player. She comes off and picks off ball so well. So we want to make sure we create those opportunities for her.”
On Ravaillion’s performance
“I think she probably played her best game of the series today. She was confident letting the ball go in attack and she was also very good in defence. She shut a lot of their drive down so I was very pleased.”
Caitlin Bassett, Australian Diamonds captain
On today’s performance
“Yeah really pleased. It was tough out there. And while we did get out to a ten-goal lead at one stage I think just the grit and determination that the Ferns had to keep coming back at us was there, but I think for us to play out that game and finish strongly was important for us.”
Are the Ferns back?
“Yeah definitely. I think they’re kind of like us. They’ve got new players in their group and they’ve got a different style of play that they can play with now. Obviously Langman back in their side gives them that experience and that confidence. But I know from working with Noeline the last two years that she really gives confidence to her players.”
Has it been useful for you to be coached by Noeline the last couple of years – does it give you more insight?
“It’s useful for me because she’s grown my game in so many different ways. I’ve loved playing underneath her and I was really happy when she got offered the role as head coach of Ferns because I know she’s the perfect person for the job. She’s obviously taught me so many things and brought a lot of confidence to my game. The flipside of that is that she knows a lot about my game, so that’s a challenge to me to keep improving.”