The New Zealand Silver Ferns claimed a long-awaited, eleven goal victory against the Australian Samsung Diamonds on Sunday afternoon.
It was a match for the trans-tasman rivalry romantics, a tight tussle which marked New Zealanders’ return to the winners list.
Back on home soil, in front of a loud Hamilton crowd, the Silver Ferns were playing with expectation after two promising Constellation Cup matches. They didn’t disappoint.
Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua opted for the same starting seven that ran out the full sixty minutes on Wednesday night.
For the Australians, coach Lisa Alexander chose to tinker with her starting seven and handed Caitlin Thwaites the starting goal shooter bib. She also rewarded Gretel Tippett’s flawless accuracy from the past six matches with the start in goal attack, while Jamie-Lee Price made her Diamonds debut at wing defence.
Thwaites got the first score on the board, but an offensive contact against Tippett gave the Silver Ferns a chance to break the Diamonds’ next centre pass, with the ball finding Maria Folau out the back on the baseline.
Folau scored once more to give New Zealand an early 3 – 1 lead, but an out of court call against her on the Ferns’ next attempt allowed the Diamonds to draw level again.
Amidst a tight opening quarter, the game got its second international debutant with New Zealand’s Erikana Pedersen replacing Gina Crampton for three minutes due to the blood rule.
It may have been an unorthodox debut, but Pedersen used her minutes on court to get her hands on the ball. By the time Crampton returned, the Ferns had pulled ahead to a two-goal advantage again.
The Silver Ferns were putting incredible pressure over the Diamonds’ centre pass, often forcing Liz Watson to go backwards. Once the Aussies made it through the barrage of black and silver on the transverse line, Katrina Grant and Jane Watson had their eye on every ball.
The Australian defence were chiming in too. Intercepts to Courtney Bruce and Price allowed the Diamonds to leapfrog New Zealand to their own three-goal advantage.
However, the Ferns had the persistence and belief to peg the scores back.
Thwaites missed two crucial goals, which were rebounded by Watson and Grant in succession.
A perfect triangular play by the Silver Ferns was almost squandered when Selby-Rickit chose to pass off beneath the ring, but the ball was called back and Folau scored.
April Brandley managed to foil the Ferns’ attempt for a goal in the dying seconds, which meant they took a single point lead at quarter-time.
With Thwaites’ two late misses proving costly, Alexander switched captain Caitlin Bassett onto court for the second quarter.
The Australians started the quarter with small wins, such as a rebound and possession call to Bruce and a cross-court exchange from Kelsey Browne to Bassett finding her right under the post.
However, Folau was unstoppable for the Ferns, providing a target in the circle and finding space around Bruce.
Folau’s form gave Selby-Rickit time to settle in the circle. Restricted to one goal in the first quarter, Selby-Rickit still looked hesitant to shoot, only putting up shots when Folau was being held and couldn’t take the offload.
The Diamonds tried to win ball back, but errors were creeping into their game.
When Price collected another intercept, it was undone by a foot-on-the-line call against Bassett. A breaking call against Brandley did them no favours, and a five-goal deficit was nearly broadened by a stepping call against Tippett.
Even when the Diamonds managed to wrangle the margin back to four, the Ferns held their nerve and their advantage, smothering the Aussies as they tried to get through their attacking end.
Selby-Rickit lifted as her teammates brought her into the game and boosted her output, and she took advantage of her swift release around the circle.
In comparison, Liz Watson seemed hesitant on the circle edge, twice missing quick passes in to Tippett.
The Diamonds made wholesale changes at half time, bringing Steph Wood into GA, Gabi Simpson into WD, and Jo Weston into GD.
Despite the changes, what followed was a messy five minutes, in which the Silver Ferns emerged as the more composed side.
A contact call against Crampton, a frantic chase by Wood to fetch a ball which ended up in Jane Watson’s hands anyway, a poor circle feed from Liz Watson – play went back and forth while the Ferns retained their five-goal lead.
A mid-range miss from Bassett and a replay ball from Browne gifted the Ferns ample opportunities to score. Even when Grant squandered a turnover opportunity by forgetting to stop on a midcourt drive, she won the ball back again.
A stepping call against Sinclair and a rare fumble from Laura Langman gave the Aussies some turnover ball, but they were wasted by a miss from Wood that Grant eagerly rebounded.
An offensive penalty against Selby-Rickit allowed Bassett to score just in time to leave the three-quarter-time margin at five.
With Langman beating Liz Watson in the centre battle, Alexander reintroduced Price to the court in her non-preferred position of C, switching Watson to WA.
She also changed the goaling line up, in response to Jane Watson’s emphatic form, pairing Tippett in GS with Wood out in front in GA.
A deflection and rebound to Weston got things going for Australia, but a bad pass to a two-on-one, a contact call against Simpson, and a fumble by Liz Watson enabled the Ferns to pull out to a 46 – 37 lead.
Selby-Rickit was goaling confidently and finding space beneath the ring, which meant Folau could play as a feeder and work further up in the third.
The Diamonds shooters, in contrast, were missing goals as the unfamiliar attacking combination found its feet.
The final minutes saw Jane Watson stamp her name as Player of the Match as she deflected a pass-off from Tippett, allowing Folau to pull New Zealand to a game-high thirteen-goal lead, which was only dented through an offensive contact call against Selby-Rickit with a minute on the clock.
The drought-breaking, eleven-goal win now puts the Silver Ferns within striking distance of the Constellation Cup.
It is not all bad news for the Diamonds. They stuck with the New Zealanders for three quarters, and Price was solid in her first game in the green and gold.
However, they will review this match as a necessary lesson as they learn to handle pressure when coming from behind.
The penalty count is also a major concern and will need to be rectified by Thursday if they want to take the trophy home; the Diamonds combined for 81 penalties, in comparison to New Zealand’s 45.
The Silver Ferns will rightly celebrate this win, but the pressure is on this rapidly improving team to back up their performance in the final test on Thursday night in Wellington.
The Silver Ferns will want to prove this game was not a fluke, but rather, that it marks their return to form.
New Zealand Silver Ferns 55 def. Samsung Diamonds 44
(14-13, 16-13, 11-10, 14-8)
Player of the Match: Jane Watson (Silver Ferns)
New Zealand Silver Ferns
Maria Folau 40/41 98%
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 15/22 68%
Caitlin Bassett 20/23 87%
Gretel Tippett 16/17 94%
Caitlin Thwaites 5/7 71%
Steph Wood 3/6 50%
Jamie-Lee Price (Diamonds) 4
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 3
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 2
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 4
Katrina Grant (Silver Ferns) 3
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 2
Jo Weston (Diamonds) 2
Caitlin Bassett (Diamonds) 2
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 20
Liz Watson (Diamonds) 13
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 11
Katrina Grant (Silver Ferns) 10
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 8
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 7
Katrina Grant (Silver Ferns) 6
Jamie-Lee Price (Diamonds) 4
Starting Line Ups
New Zealand Silver Ferns
GS Maria Folau
GA Te Paea Selby-Rickit
WA Gina Crampton
C Laura Langman
WD Samantha Sinclair
GD Katrina Grant
GK Jane Watson
Changes: Q1 Erikana Pedersen WA, Gina Crampton WA
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Kelsey Browne
C Liz Watson
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD April Brandley
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q2 Caitlin Bassett GS, Q3 Jo Weston GD, Steph Wood GA, Gabi Simpson WD, Q4 Liz Watson WA, Jamie-Lee Price C, Gretel Tippett GS
*Due to NS’s lack of photography resources in Hamilton, photographs from the previous Constellation Cup tests have been used. We hope you enjoy our NS Photographers’ work.