Match two of the Constellation Cup was truly a game of momentum swings and historic moments.
The Samsung Australian Netball Diamonds’ 56-47 victory was bolstered by the sold-out crowd in Townsville, Queensland, who hosted their first ever international match.
Also going down in netball history was Silver Ferns captain Laura Langman, who played her 146th record-breaking test cap to overtake Irene Van Dyk and become the most-capped Silver Ferns player of all time.
While New Zealand fell short on her milestone match, their obsession for thrilling comebacks positively highlighted the passion emerging back into their play.
Their ability to remediate a dire situation was exemplified following their clumsy start to the first quarter, where a footwork call, break and overthrown pass provided the Diamonds with three easy turnovers in the first four minutes.
The Diamonds mercilessly pounced upon all three opportunities, and swiftly delivered the ball into goal shooter Caitlin Bassett to gain a 6-0 lead.
However, an intercept from goal keeper Jane Watson provided a blessing for New Zealand, by providing the chance to finally make their mark on the scoreboard and begin to settle into their rhythm.
But this rhythm was far from sound, with fearsome Diamonds goal defender Jo Weston and goal keeper Courtney Bruce proving absolute nightmares for Silver Ferns shooters Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Maria Folau.
While Weston relentlessly zoned Selby-Rickit along the edge of the goal ring, Bruce maintained an infuriating physicality against Folau across the entire game. Bruce won the fight with eight deflections and intercepts.
However she didn’t have it all her own way, as Selby-Rickit and Folau gallantly contested the hustle with confident and accurate long-range swish goals.
The frustration from Bruce’s detrimental defence also sparked a fire within Folau, which fuelled her powerful attack on the ball.
This newfound determination aided the Silver Ferns tightening defensive end, which forced a couple of overcooked passes from the Diamonds.
It was here that New Zealand’s payback stung Australia, with their smooth transitions quick to capitalise upon these turnovers and allowing the Ferns to achieve a notable comeback of 12-11.
The second term saw the Diamonds lead strengthen and their confidence build, especially when delivering long balls to Bassett.
The shooting powerhouse was indestructible in the ring, refusing to allow either Watson or goal defender Katrina Grant to break her hold as she constantly demanded the ball.
Despite both New Zealand defenders being essentially magnetised to Bassett, strong vision and skilful delivery from Diamonds players, especially wing attack and MVP Kelsey Browne, saw the shooter come out on top.
An often-unmanned goal attack Steph Wood strategically used this free space to her advantage by cutting across the ring and executing a quick one-two play with centre Liz Watson and Browne.
Whilst the dodging and smooth connections between Folau and Selby-Rickit improved, defenders troubled their efforts, particularly by snatching several bounce passes into the goal ring.
These collective victories allowed the Diamonds to stretch their lead back out to five goals, entering half time on 29-24.
The third quarter saw a resurgence for New Zealand, whose intimidating defensive unit, and minimal penalties, heavily restricted the Diamonds to only 12 goals.
The only two player changes were also applied for the Diamonds, with Gretel Tippett swapping into goal attack and Gabi Simpson into wing defence.
The altered shooting duo saw an immediate shift in game style, as Bassett frequently drew out her defenders and created ample space for Tippett to manoeuvre around the ring.
Whilst initially proving effective, it eventually resulted in too much movement from both shooters and Bassett ultimately removed herself as the dominant target in the ring.
However, one of the biggest influences upon the scoreboard was Jane Watson, who defied Bassett’s extra 12cm height to brilliantly steal two long balls.
This resulted in Bassett being restricted to a mere six goals for the quarter, and the Silver Ferns closing the gap to 32-31.
The athleticism and perseverance of centre Laura Langman and wing attack Gina Crampton also proved pertinent in maintaining ball possession and creating opportunities for different passages of play.
With their shooters, particularly Selby-Rickit, appearing slightly fatigued by the Diamonds unyielding defence, both midcourt players braved the cold front with patience and calculated passes that salvaged their game.
Langman particularly made her presence known, as she constantly fought for a position along the circle edge to secure the optimal feeding position for shooters.
However, their shooting streak was short-lived, as Australia soon regained their momentum and reduced their quarter loss to one goal.
New Zealand entered the fourth quarter with great promise and vital deflections in the Diamonds shooting circle, which again reduced the score to a one-goal difference.
Unfortunately, it was the Diamond’s cunning prowess which broke New Zealand’s spirits and often left attackers parallel, or throwing backwards, in the centre third.
While wing defence Samantha Sinclair provided valuable backup for attackers along the transverse line, it wasn’t enough to alleviate the pressure and push through the Diamond’s defensive wall.
Consequentially, the Australians overpowered their play and forced three costly held balls; this saw the beginning of New Zealand’s demise.
Every Diamond worked tirelessly to punish the Silver Ferns, with Browne’s prevailing leads through the middle of the court and 24 goal assists boosting the Diamonds’ success.
Her consistent drive to the top of the circle particularly aided Tippett and Bassett’s synchronisation.
Original playing methods were effectually restored, as Bassett returned to her home in the goal circle and Tippett remained a flawless shooting weapon.
Together, they rewarded the team’s efforts with 100% accuracy in the second half and eight consecutive goals, before finishing on a victorious nine-goal lead.
While New Zealand couldn’t weather the Australian storm this time, their unchanged starting seven showcased great potential and progress.
Plus, with a promising shooting duo emerging and a six-goal comeback from Sunday, many silver linings were revealed for the Silver Ferns. However, Folau and Selby-Rickit will need to reduce their turnover rate, causing 13 of New Zealand’s total of 22 errors.
The third Constellation Cup match in Hamilton, New Zealand this Sunday will reveal whether their growth, along with the support of a home crowd, will be enough to upset the Diamond’s campaign.
Samsung Australian Diamonds 56 def New Zealand Silver Ferns 47
(12 – 11, 17 – 13, 12 – 13, 15 – 10)
Player of the Match: Kelsey Browne (Samsung Diamonds)
Samsung Australian Diamonds
Bassett 37/38 94%
Wood 7/9 78%
Tippett 12/12 100%
New Zealand Silver Ferns
Folau 32/38 84%
Selby-Rickit 15/20 75%
Liz Watson (Diamonds) 2
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 1
Gretel Tippett (Diamonds) 1
Laura Langman (Silver Ferns) 1
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 1
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 7
Katrina Grant (Silver Ferns) 5
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 5
Kelsey Browne (Diamonds) 24
Liz Watson (Diamonds) 18
Laura Langman (Silver Ferns) 16
Samsung Australian Diamonds
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Liz Watson
WD April Brandley
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q3 GA Gretel Tippett and WD Gabi Simpson
New Zealand Silver Ferns
GS Maria Folau
GA Te Paea Selby-Rickit
WA Gina Crampton
C Laura Langman
WD Samantha Sinclair
GD Katrina Grant
GK Jane Watson
Umpires: Ian Fuller and Anso Kemp