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Victory sweet for Silver Ferns
Julie Ash – New Zealand Herald
Draped in a New Zealand flag, Belinda Colling’s beaming face said it all. Victory was sweet for a survivor of the agonising losses in the finals of the last world championships and the Commonwealth Games. “It has been a long, long time coming,” she said after the Silver Ferns beat Australia 49-47 in Kingston, Jamaica, to win their first world title since 1987.
“But oh my God our defence were outstanding and Irene [van Dyk] was just incredible. I knew we could do it. I thought we would do it by more. But it just shows you how good Australia are when it comes to finals. It was invisible threads and huge connections,” said Colling, who plans to holiday with captain Anna Rowberry in Los Angeles and Turkey before returning home. “We had that connection as a team and we had our mates to back us up. If one of us made a mistake there was someone there to get it back for you.”
With the Sunshine Girls out of the tournament, the Jamaican crowd at the final were on their feet chanting “New Zea-land, New Zea-land, New Zea-land”. And it seemed to help. With some controversial umpiring calls, including the sending off of Temepara Clark, the Silver Ferns could have fallen apart, but they held it together.
“I am so proud … They were good girls, weren’t they,” said New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken. “They kept on keeping on. The last minute seemed to go forever, I must admit. They just like to keep me on my toes, I think.” She was delighted with how the team coped when Clark was sent off. “We had certainly planned for a lot of things. We went through all sorts of scenarios, we practised people being sent off. Just to go through it. I thought the way they adapted was phenomenal.” And Clark’s performance? “She was absolutely fantastic – the little pocket rocket that she is.”
Sixteen years ago, when New Zealand last won the title, victory came with a win over Trinidad and Tobago in Scotland. Joan Hodson, a member of that team, was a nervous spectator yesterday. “I couldn’t sleep last night. It was just horrendous. I was thinking about the girls, hoping they got a good night’s rest,” she said. “I was right on the edge of my seat, holding my head in my hands, thinking here we go again.”
Hodson, who played on the wing in 1987, said the New Zealanders “looked so much better than Australia” but with a history of last-minute losses she could not relax until the final whistle blew. “I think we were more desperate. That desperation was evident in ’87. The senior players [in 1987] made it clear to us young ones in no uncertain terms were we going to lose to Australia.”
Former centre Sandra Edge, who watched the game from her Gisborne home, said the team had “that little bit of magic” that lifted them above the Australians. They had a combination of experienced players and new blood, working with experienced managers, the formula that worked in 1987. “I just think the girls looked like they were really engrossed and enjoying the sport. I liken it to the build-up in 1987. They are committed, they like each other and they are really passionate about netball.”
She said the players and assistant coach Leigh Gibbs had been “put through the wringer” over their past performance but had stuck it out and fought back. In previous years, she said, “Aussie were playing some magic netball. I don’t think we got too down, I just think Aussie rose to it. That’s what makes it all the more pleasing for this one. “I couldn’t stop smiling. It took me a couple of hours to recover.”
Annette Heffernan, a reserve in 1987, said she had been confident the Silver Ferns would pull it off and their “togetherness” was the key to their success. “I quite like seeing Australia come second.”