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Third quarter costs Silver Ferns in decider
Cathy Walshe, NZPA

A lapse in adjustment to an Australian third-quarter change ultimately cost the Silver Ferns the title as they succumbed 57-58 in extra time at the world netball championship final in Singapore yesterday. Ahead 12-10 after 15 minutes, the New Zealanders battled to a gritty 26-20 halftime lead before the wheels fell off when the third quarter started.

The long limbs of Australian goal keep Susan Fuhrmann were replaced by the more mobile and intuitive defence of Laura Geitz, while rangy young Caitlin Bassett came on for veteran Diamonds shooter Cath Cox at the other end of the court. Those changes – and the injection of wing attack Chelsea Pitman for Kim Green at the end of the first quarter – galvanised the Australians, who took out the third 15-minute spell 15-10 and only trailed 36-35 going into the last quarter.

New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken afterwards pinpointed that third stanza as pivotal, although she did admit that both teams had had the winning of the game at certain times. “There were a lot of little things, but I certainly think that when they made the adjustment with Bassett in the third quarter, while we had talked about that potential change, I think it did make a difference to them,” Aitken told NZPA afterwards. “That run they got to get back in from six or seven goals down was what set it up for a real tough finish. The time when we needed to have really asserted our dominance, perhaps we didn’t do that as much as we could have.”

Aitken stuck to her opening line-up for the entire 60 minutes, making her sole change of the game at the beginning of extra time after the scores were level 46-46 at full time. Anna Scarlett replaced Leana de Bruin at goal keep, after the long-limbed South African-born defender had run herself to a standstill in working to contain first Cox, then Bassett.

But it was the huge pressure on New Zealand’s shooters that eventually took its toll in extra time. Evergreen Irene van Dyk, 39, worked tirelessly in combatting first the intimidating height and reach of Susan Fuhrmann then the up close and personal attentions of Laura Geitz, while Maria Tutaia had to contend with the outstanding Julie Corletto, who had one of her best games yet in green and gold. “There was huge pressure on our shooting circle,” Aitken said. “The defensive pressure Australia put us under was massive, and they probably had the edge of us in that statistic. But in the end it’s the whole seven, the whole team who take collective responsibility.”

The win provided no small degree of consolation for the Diamonds, who last year lost their second successive Commonwealth Games title to New Zealand with a double extra time 66-64 win in the gold medal match. The closeness of both matches reflects the intensity of any match involving the long-standing trans-Tasman rivals, Aitken said. “We’re feeling a bit battered and bruised, as you can imagine, but it was an amazing spectacle, and both teams had the winning of it at certain stages. That’s the thing. It’s incredibly close between the two teams, but we just didn’t get to be on the right side of the ledger at the right time.”

Aitken had given all her 12-strong squad a good run in pool play and sudden-death matches over the week-long tournament, assessing form, strengths and weaknesses, but when it came to the crunch she settled for sticking with almost all her entire starting line-up for the draining 75-minute game. “We felt the players were working really hard out there and we felt they had the experience to do it, but it just didn’t happen today,” Aitken said. “It was seven players, or eight counting Anna, who gave it their absolute all so in the end I was proud of the effort and work rate out there.”