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Gold for Silver Ferns! New Zealand crowned netball World Cup champions
Liam Napier – NZ Herald
The Silver Ferns, these marvellous mavens, are world champions. Never has there been a more worthy group.
Sixteen years after New Zealand’s last World Cup crown in Jamaica, Noeline Taurua has inspired a fairytale triumph in Liverpool, sneaking in the backdoor to steal a title to sit alongside those in 1967, ’79, ’87 and 2003.
In a spooky similarity, the last New Zealand team, led by Ruth Aitken and Anna Stanley (nee Rowberry), to claim a World Cup title also broke a 16 year drought.
This 52-51 triumph seemed so much more improbable than any before. Last year, the Ferns hit rock bottom. Thanks to Taurua’s incredible 11-month transformation, they are top of the netball world.
Taurua joins Taini Jamison, Lois Muir (twice) and Aitken as World Cup-winning New Zealand coaches. Such status is nothing more than she deserves.
First England, on home court, were swept aside in the semifinal. Today the Silver Ferns dethroned Australia, 11-time champions and winners of the last three World Cup titles. Let that sink in for a minute.
New Zealand, rejoice, you have a netball team to savour.
Spare a thought for Ferns captain Laura Langman, veteran defender Casey Kopua and star shooter Maria Folau. Since 2007, that trio has stomached three successive World Cup final losses to Australia.
Bridesmaids, no more.
After withstanding the inevitable Australian onslaught the Ferns turned with a four-goal buffer for the final quarter. Ameliaranne Ekenasio, as she did against England, nailed pressure shot after pressure shot to finish with 24 from 26 while Kopua and former captain Katrina Rore snaffled crucial intercepts.
At the final whistle the Ferns flew into a huddle and celebrations began; passion etched on their faces. Given the depths they rose from, this title means so much to so many.
The coin toss had to be performed twice after the first rolled along the court floor for an age before finally stopping upright, refusing to pick a side.
It proved an omen for a typically ding dong, goal-for-goal, transtasman scrap in which every pass, every possession, was contested as if lives depended on it.
After resting four of her starting side for their semifinal against South Africa, Australian coach Lisa Alexander returned to her strongest seven.
Unlike their stirring semifinal upset over England, this time the Ferns had the crowd on their side.
Folau, with her radar slightly off, encapsulated early nerves as she missed three shots in the first quarter, and lost the ball out of court on another occasion. Those misses, and the odd wild pass, allowed Australia to push out to a four-goal lead.
Gradually, New Zealand settled. Ekenasio’s high, looping shots dropped; a Jane Watson intercept and Langman tip later, and the Ferns clawed their way back to 10-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Both sides enjoyed more fluency through court in the second quarter. At times the Ferns embraced freedom to let the ball go – Gina Crampton finding Folau in space under the hoop one particular highlight.
On the bench Taurua nodded nervously.
Star Australian shooter and captain Caitlin Bassett, so often the Ferns tormenter, endured shaky moments under pressure from Watson, missing four goals in the first half.
But it was a Rore intercept, just before the half time, that allowed the Ferns to clinically convert the decisive turnover for a three-goal burst that spurred them to a 28-25 advantage.
Alexander blinked first by turning to her bench for the second half, injecting Gretel Tippett for Steph Wood at goal attack, in a bid to counter the smothering New Zealand defensive end of Watson and Kopua, and swapping Sarah Klau for favoured defender Courtney Bruce.
Those changes didn’t have the desired impact, though. Australia were rattled, making uncharacteristic errors as New Zealand capitalised to opened up a seven-goal buffer.
Seeing the match slip away Alexander made further changes by pushing April Brandley into wing defence for Jamie-Lee Price.
This time the tweak sparked a momentum shift as Australia closed to within four at the final turn.
A costly turnover to start the fourth quarter and Australia were one goal behind. Ekenasio held nerve and the defensive end stepped up.
The rest is history. Glorious, glorious history.
Meanwhile, hosts England, stunned yesterday by the Silver Ferns, comfortably claimed third place with a 58-42 victory over South Africa. England coach Tracey Neville and Norma Plummer, leading South Africa for the 50th time, both signed off with this match.
Jamaica, world No 2, finished fifth after defeating Malawi 68-50.