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Tide of tears finally turns for Ferns
Julie Ash – New Zealand Herald
It has been a long time coming but finally New Zealand can say they are the best netball side in the world. After heartbreaking losses to Australia at the 1999 world championships and last year’s Commonwealth Games, the tide finally turned as the Silver Ferns edged out the defending champions 49-47. In front of 3500 screaming Jamaicans and a sprinkling of Kiwi supporters, New Zealand – inspired by goal shoot Irene van Dyk and dynamic centre Temepara Clark – reclaimed the title they last won in 1987.
Like the 1999 world championship and the Commonwealth Games, the match went down to a cliffhanger finish, but this time it was the Australians who were reduced to tears with the realisation they had failed to win their fourth consecutive world title. “You win some and you lose some,” said Australian coach Jill McIntosh, who with captain Kathryn Harby-Williams, Rebecca Sanders and Nicole Richardson is retiring from international netball. “We were beaten by a better side.”
But it was Australia who started better. Newcomers Cynna Neele at goal shoot and Natasha Chokljat at wing attack – neither of whom had played against New Zealand – helped them to an 8-3 lead halfway through the first quarter. Their experienced defenders, Liz Ellis and Harby-Williams, were all over New Zealand shooters van Dyk and Belinda Colling, blocking the channels into the circle.
But New Zealand slowly began to peg it back and with four minutes to go in the first quarter the score was locked at 9-all. Through some outstanding defence New Zealand went into the first quarter break 14-10 ahead. They maintained a narrow lead early in the second quarter but once again the Australians came back and midway through the second quarter levelled at 17-all.
New Zealand defenders Vilimaina Davu and Sheryl Clarke knew they had to be on their game against super shooter Sharelle McMahon, and they did not disappoint. Neither did Temepara Clark, who was outstanding. New Zealand led 27-22 at half-time and Australia rang in the changes.
Chokljat came off, Nicole Richardson went into centre and Rebecca Saunders wing attack. New Zealand held the lead throughout the third quarter but were never able to get more than five ahead. The Ferns went into the last quarter 37-34 ahead and stuck to their starting seven. Australia made further changes.
Catherine Cox came on at goal shoot replacing Neele and, reminiscent of the 1999 event when captain Vicki Wilson was subbed off in the final, Harby-Williams was replaced by Janine Ilitch. Australia pegged back the score to two then disaster struck for New Zealand when Clark was sent off for persistent infringing. Clark was off for two New Zealand centre pass-offs, which allowed the Australians to draw level.
Just when it looked as if the Australians were going to come through in the last minute and take the match yet again, New Zealand goal defence Sheryl Clarke pulled off a priceless intercept. And this time New Zealand kept their cool – and the ball. Leading 49-46 with less than a minute left, Australia landed one more goal before the end.
New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken was ecstatic. “They kept on keeping on,” she said. “Aussie kept coming back and we sort of faltered for a while but then absorbed it and kept moving on. But for them to have responded so well after Bubby [Clark] got sent off was just outstanding. We thought no matter what gets thrown at us we are going to keep on powering on. It was amazing to see it happen. They were not going to be thrown by anything.”
For Aitken the win is sweet after wide criticism over her appointment as coach in 2001. “This is our team, and our moment and people can do with it what they will but they can’t take it away from us.”