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Ellis blocks Boks to net title
Heather Smith & AAP – Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian team stormed through to retain their world title yesterday, ending South Africa’s dream comeback to top international netball. Australia won 68-48 in the final, successfully defending the crown won from New Zealand by one goal in Sydney in 1991. While the Australians proved they had the stamina to outlast the tiring South Africans – back at the world championship for the first time since 1967 – they also blocked out 190cm goalshooter Irene van Dyk with cleverly crafted centre-court play and a great performance by 183cm goalkeeper Liz Ellis.

The South Africans had only 54 attempts at goal to Australia’s 77, with van Dyk posting a 91 per cent success rate with her 42 goals from 46 shots. Jenny Borlase landed 37 from 41 attempts for Australia, and Nicole Cusack supported strongly at goal attack with 31 goals. Elated Australian captain Michelle Fielke said there was nothing better than winning a second successive title.

“When you’ve been in two you really realise the importance of four years apart; there’s just so much effort that goes into winning a world championship,” she said. “And it was a real team effort there today. “We played very tight defence all over the court and that forced the South Africans into more errors.”

Ellis cut off many passes to van Dyk, but the whole team played strongly to keep the ball away from the opposition goal circle. “A lot of our centre-court players had great defensive games; it made it a lot easier,” Fielke said. “Liz’s elevation was incredible. She played a great game. She just cut Irene out and rebounded very strongly, and she’ll be there for a few years yet.”

Australia boast a superb record of only one loss in five years. And while they revelled in sheer ecstasy after their one-goal defeat of New Zealand in the 1991 world final, the over-riding feeling yesterday was one of relief, according to Sydney’s Carissa Dalwood. “It was just so good to hear the final whistle blow because we couldn’t let up for a minute against the South Africans,” Dalwood said.

A Sydney tickertape parade for the team will be considered by the State Government, Premier Bob Carr said. “This is I think the most popular sport in the country but it doesn’t get the status that other sports get,” Carr said yesterday. “I think these are real champions and they deserve a great deal of credit.”

The team, which has won seven of the nine world titles held since 1963, ranks among this country’s most successful sporting sides. The women in green and gold have lost a mere 13 matches in 117 internationals in the past 11 years. Only New Zealand, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have defeated them in that time.

The 12-player national squad is performing under the tutelage of Jill McIntosh, but former coach Joyce Brown is considered responsible for Australia’s reign on the world scene. Brown, appointed national coach in September 1990, coached the side to 37 Test victories – 33 consecutively – as well as the 1991 world championship before her retirement last November. She instilled dedication, professionalism and sheer hard work into her players. The 1995 world championship team – selected by Brown just before stepping down – is largely a product of her making.

While Australia’s leading netballers have progressed significantly from the days of asphalt courts and orange quarters at half-time, there are likely to be more changes before the next world tournament in New Zealand in 1999. An expanded national league competition and a move towards professionalism for national team players is underway.