In the first of the most anticipated games of the Netball World Cup, the Australian Diamonds and the New Zealand Silver Ferns delivered.
From the first whistle, there were mind games with players deliberately taking each other’s space for penalties, or failing to release the ball quickly when setting penalties, so as to give themselves time to set up defensively.
Diamond’s goal attack Steph Wood looked nervous on the shot and preferred to dish off to her captain, Caitlin Bassett. But a perfectly placed feed, bounced off the pine from Kelsey Browne, seemed to bolster Wood’s confidence and she was happy to go to post, from distance, from then on. She finished the first with 7/8 at 88%.
Speaking after the game, Wood acknowledged the nerves. “I do get a little nervous pregame. But I think it means I care about the game and I try to think of them more as a positive thing. As soon as I get in the game, they go away and as long as we are staying connected as a group, it helps calm the nerves.”
The Diamond’s midcourt was stifling during the first term. On one occasion, the ball was held high up in the centre third, before Ferns captain, Laura Langman opened up the arm and launched a perfect pass to Maria Folau in the pocket.
In return the Ferns made it hard for the Diamonds to find easy passage in their goal third. Langman blocked every possible path for Aussie centre, Liz Watson who was having an unusually quiet game, only notching 4 goal assists in the first term.
Ferns veteran, Casey Kopua was having a tough time matching Wood once she got her tail up. Eventually, she dropped back to double team Caitlin Bassett in the goal circle. Bassett for her part, was having a true captain’s game, remaining calm and playing the perfect hold. However, Kopua caught on to this and picked up two nicely timed deflections in the circle.
Australia went into the break leading 13/10.
Australia looked more composed in the second quarter and was playing patient netball. Watson continually signalled for her side to settle at every centre pass. However, Watson was guilty of playing too patiently as she was not willing to release the quick passes she is known for.
Maria Folau was also teasing the 3-second rule on the shot. Bruce made the most of these opportunities, holding the perfect distance waiting for the whistle, which came early in the second term and gave Australia a 5-goal lead.
Australia pushed out the lead to 7-goals 10-minutes into the second quarter off the back of some great scrambling defence from Jo Weston and Jamie-Lee Price the latter taking a flying mid-court intercept.
In the circle, Weston and Bruce were out-muscling the Ferns for rebounds so New Zealand coach, Noeline Taurua brought on her rebounding specialist, Bailey Mes 3-minutes before half-time.
The third quarter was the best from the Silver Ferns as they brought the score line back to within four. Jane Watson, who playing at goal keeper, was reading Bassett’s game exceptionally well and was able to draw an offensive contact, much to the disgust of the Aussie captain.
Watson was also getting around the body successfully and collected 2 gains and 1 intercept during the term.
Katrina Rore was also having a more comfortable time playing on Browne and was covering the zippy Australian’s every move. But, in order to make inroads to Australia’s powerful shooting combination, Taurua made wholesale changes to her defensive structure, starting with bringing Karin Burger on at wing defence. Unfortunately, Burger gave space back to Browne.
But the changes were effective in the circle when Rore was brought back on in goal defence and Kopua pushed to goal keeper. Of the changes, Taurua said, “I didn’t think we were creating enough turnover, and when we get caught on the back that’s really difficult. I think also that the changeup between a totally different style, between Jane and also Casey, that proved to be quite fruitful in probably the first ten minutes, but then I think we started to get on the back foot and wasn’t able to get any more intercepts.”
“One of the things I’m really pleased about is the team, we had to make changes to try and get ourselves back on there. I thought it was unnecessary from our part, but however, giving respect to the opposition as well. The changes at certain times made a difference, they [Australia] coughed up ball which probably wasn’t helpful to them, and they probably didn’t react to the changes as well. Each person, as we know, in the leadup to these games, they bring something a wee bit different to the set structure, and they were able to do their job which is great.”
During the third term Australia were getting hands to ball but were stalled in transition by the dogged Ferns. In the end they only converted 25% of the turnovers coughed up by the Ferns. Compared to the Ferns nearly 30% conversion rate.
After the game, Steph Wood acknowledged that this is an area which needs correcting for her side, ahead of the semi-finals. “We turned a lot of ball over, but I don’t think we rewarded ourselves for it. I think there was a crucial part in the game where we could have pushed the lead out to 8 or 9. So, fine-tuning those little things, that can when you a game in a big game, and concentrating on those in the lead in to semis will put us in good stead.”
A lot of cautions were handed out during the third time: Paige Hadley was cautioned for persistent contact. Weston received a caution for the same reason. Mes was cautioned for dangerous contact when she deliberately took Courtney Bruce’s landing space on two occasions.
During the final term, Australia looked laboured and began to play the overtop passes or across court passes rather than opting to reoffer. On two occasions in as many minutes, Wood and Browne were guilty of throwing the ball across the goal third which were easy pickings for Kopua.
Just when the Diamonds settled and looked to get their drive back, Langman took the wind out of their sails by getting a speccy deflection which was backed up by no fewer than three black dresses. The frustration began to show for the Diamonds as the Silver Ferns scored off 3 gains to the Diamonds zero goals from gains for the term.
Langman was instrumental in setting the pace and led her side by example right until the last moments of the match – where it all came undone for the seasoned veteran.
The match was all tied up at with 1minute 20seconds to play. Australia scored, giving them a one goal advantage, and sent the ball back for the final centre of the match. However, someone forgot to tell Langman the score, as she believed when Australia scored it brought the scores level.
So, utilising her experience, she instructed her side to play the ball around to eat up time before sending it in to Folau to, hopefully, put up the final goal of the game – a goal which Langman believed would have secured her side the win. However, Folau missed, and Bruce got the rebound – giving Australia the win.
Speaking after the match, Langman laughs about the error, “I probably got it a little wee bit wrong. I thought it was a draw! So that falls on me, that was poor leadership from me. But – flip – good learning. We’re lucky, we’ve got an opportunity, we ARE in a semi-final spot, so it’s about picking what we can squeeze out this next couple of days and relishing on the fact that we can grind.”
Taurua was also positive about the experience. “This is what it’s all about, and I love games like that, and it always comes down to you know, who does and who doesn’t, and I love that sort of game!”
In those final moments, player of the match, Courtney Bruce knew she had to do everything in her power to stay in play and stop the shot. After the game, she talked us through her process. “What do I know that disrupts her shot? Getting over her shooting arm and trying to put that pressure on was my main aim, and then if she was gonna miss it just to block out strong and go up. The game isn’t over until that ball goes through the hoop, and I was going to do everything in my power to stop that last goal!”
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Steph Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Liz Watson
WD Jamie-Lee Price
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q2 Paige Hadley WD, Jamie-Lee Price bench
Q4. Jamie-Lee Price WD, Paige Hadley bench
GS Maria Folau
GA Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA Gina Crampton
C Laura Langman
WD Katrina Rore
GD Casey Kopua
GK Jane Watson
Changes: Q2 Bailey Mes GS, Maria Folau GA, Ameliaranne Ekenasio bench,
Q3 Shannon Saunders WA, Gina Crampton bench, Ameliaranne Ekenasio GA, Maria Folau bench, Karin Burger WD, Katrina Rore bench then GD, Casey Kopua bench then GK, Jane Watson bench
Q4 Casey Kopua bench, Jane Watson GK, Maria Folau GS, Bailey Mes bench
Umpires: Gary Burgess and Kate Stephenson
Caitlin Bassett – 37/41 (90%)
Steph Wood – 13/16 (81%)
Maria Folau. 21/24 (88%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 20/24 (83%)
Bailey Mes 8/10 (80%)
Laura Langman (New Zeland) 16
Liz Watson (Australia) 15
Kelsey Browne (Australia) 13
Steph Wood (Australia) 13
Caitlin Bassett (Australia) 3
Courtney Bruce (Australia) 3
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (New Zealand) 2
Jo Weston (Australia) 2
Courtney Bruce (Australia) 3
Casey Kopua (New Zealand) 3
Jane Watson (New Zealand) 3