Heartbreak at death for Silver Ferns
After 74 minutes of torrid netball, the Silver Ferns’ quest to secure back-to-back golds at consecutive major tournaments fell at the final hurdle, with Australia defending their world title in an extra-time thriller. Leading 46-45 heading into the final minute and with the centre pass, all New Zealand had to do was hold on to the ball to claim the win.
But a Natalie Medhurst steal off what was an ordinary piece of attacking allowed Australia to level the score. They could have claimed the win from the following centre pass if weren’t for a wobbly shot at goal from Caitlin Bassett. And so, at 46-all, the two superpowers battled into extra time once more.
The score was still level after the first period of seven minutes. And again heading into the final minute it was still even stevens. But a missed long shot from Maria Tutaia – hero of last year’s Commonwealth Games victory – was rebounded by defender Laura Geitz and swiftly moved down court. This time, Bassett did not miss, and the Ferns’ dreams of “G2” – gold No 2 – were crushed.
Reality didn’t appear to set into the Ferns camp until the post-match presentations. As Irene van Dyk climbed onto the runners-up podium, she began to sob uncontrollably. Soon, many of her Silver Ferns team-mates began to chime in. Van Dyk’s open display of emotion was perhaps the strongest indicator yet that last night’s extraordinary final may be her last in the black dress.
The emotion of the occasion also got the better of captain Casey Williams, who broke down in tears in the post-match interviews as she paid tribute to her team-mates. “I am pretty emotional – as you can see right now there are tears in my eyes,” she said “The girls gave it all out there. I’m so proud. [The loss] doesn’t take away from any of the hard work that we’ve done over the last four years.”
But Australia’s fighting qualities were better on this occasion. They trailed by six goals at halftime before a good old-fashioned rark-up from no-nonsense coach Norma Plummer set them back on the right track, coming back out of the break fired up on defence. For Australia, there was more than a world title on the line in Singapore – they were out for Delhi redemption.
It was evident in the jubilation from the players after the match that that pain had been put to rest. All the numbers pointed to a tight tussle last night. Twenty-one of the past 23 meetings between the sides have been decided by seven goals or fewer. So evenly matched are these two sides that there are no longer any favourites. When trying to pick a winner, all you can really go on is the vibe each side are putting out.
Until Saturday night’s semifinals, it looked as though New Zealand were in the better groove, cruising through their three pool games before a more competitive hit-out against South Africa in the quarter-final. But they had a very tough semifinal encounter against England, while Australia had an unexpectedly comfortable semifinal win, beating Jamaica 82-46 to set up a fourth consecutive trans-tasman final.
New Zealand enjoyed all the early running in last night’s match, taking a 12-10 lead at the first break and extending that advantage out to five early on in the second spell. But there were nervous moments when, just before halftime, Williams called a time-out to receive treatment on her calf, which was heavily strapped. The captain, who played the 2006 Commonwealth Games final with an ankle fracture, battled on but looked uncomfortable.
A piece of Tutaia magic in the final seconds of the half gave the Ferns a healthy 26-20 lead at halftime. But having worked so hard to amass that lead, the Silver Ferns were reduced to mere spectators early in the third period as Australia clawed the goals back one by one. Plummer made changes at both end of the court, introducing Bassett for Catherine Cox at goal shoot and injecting Geitz at goal keep in place of Susan Fuhrmann.
The changes, as well as a noticeable step up in defensive intensity, helped Australia to level it at 27-all five minutes in, before taking the lead a couple of possessions later. New Zealand just managed to get their noses back in front heading into the final turn, taking a 36-35 lead to set up a tense final 15 minutes.