It was also a milestone for Diamonds coach, Lisa Alexander. She has coached the Diamonds for 100 games with a win/loss ratio of 81-18. Alexander credits the 2015 Diamonds win at the Netball World Cup in Sydney as an important moment in Australian women’s sport stating, “it started the tidal wave in Australia about women’s sport.” Alexander is the first Diamonds coach to have notched up 100 games as coach and was the first coach appointed who was a non-former Diamond.
Game two of the Constellation Cup saw some changes to both teams: the Diamonds chose to start Courtney Bruce at goal keeper and Laura Scherian at WA. In an unprecedented move, Alexander opted to only have three shooters in the game day squad, choosing to rest Caitlin Thwaites. This paved the way for the youngest Diamonds team member, defender Maddy Turner, to pull on the yellow dress in the hopes of making her international debut.
After making an impact in game one, Karin Burger started at goal defence for the Ferns. Gina Crampton also returned to the side, back from the knee injury that kept her out of game one. Pheonix Karaka was not named in the side due to sustaining a concussion earlier in the week.
Much has been said about the Diamonds attacking end since the World Cup: that they are lacking the settled and slick plays of the Diamonds of yesteryear. The early stages of game two saw the same concerns flash before the Diamonds’ fans with a chance at goal being missed when Liz Watson threw the ball over the baseline and missing all connection with the Gretel Tippett/ Caitlin Bassett circle combination.
Turnovers from both teams spoke to some nerves early on, but as the first quarter played-on, it was obvious the defensive game of the Diamonds had stepped up a notch as they caused two turnovers due to held ball. Much of the credit goes to the reintroduction of Courtney Bruce who had an impact with some early tips and pressure on Maria Folau. Jo Weston scrambled hard for tips and showed some real intensity to the ball, in difference to her performance in match one.
With smooth transition play, the Diamonds were out by four goals with seven minutes remaining.
Laura Scherian and Bassett were having some synergy issues of their own in attack and the Ferns capitalised on the combination that wasn’t looking overly confident.
Again, Laura Langman was organising the Ferns attack end, sometimes taking every other pass. Her speed into space and fast release of the ball broke through the Diamonds defence.
The shooting circle that finished so strongly for the Ferns in game one, had started a little lacklustre in game two, with both Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio missing early shots. While this is not normally a major concern, as was shown in the way their combination built seamlessly during the first test, they were clearly rattled by Bruce’s imposing presence and failed to pull in their usual number of rebounds.
The Diamonds took the first quarter 13-10, but it was fair to say that neither team would have been happy with the errors of the first fifteen minutes.
No changes to either team to start the second quarter showed both coaches were hoping that their teams could find some rhythm. But, such is the pressure that both teams can apply in defence, that there were again more turnovers and held balls in the early stages of the term.
Jane Watson was showing her physicality with some hustle against Tippett and Bassett, but it seemed each time the Ferns had the chance to close the scoreline, errors were thwarting their chances.
Halfway through the second quarter, Bruce was staking her claim on the starting goal keeper position and making up for time spent on the bench in game one. If it had been Alexander’s plan to keep Bruce on the bench to put some fire in her belly, it had worked, with her notching up two intercepts and four gains during the term as well as unleashing some court-splitting shoulder passes to break through the New Zealand zone defence.
Australia maintained a buffer of four goals for most of the second term but was unable to extend it. This caused Alexander to make her first change of the game by bringing in Paige Hadley for Scherian. Hadley, coming off her best domestic season in quite some time, is no doubt still on a high after winning the Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final with the NSW Swifts. But international netball is another level and her former Swifts’ teammate Katrina Rore let her know by holding tight body position and restricting her view down the court.
Burger and Tippett were having a good old-fashioned tussle and though Burger is incredibly athletic and able to take a knock, the height difference between the two was causing Burger some grief with Tippett just winning their aerial battles.
Returning Diamond, Ash Brazill’s ability to cover not only the first, but the second lead to the ball is something that does not show up on statistics, but the wealth of work she does should surely be worth a few extra Nissan Net Point. The shadowing that Brazill was doing on Shannon Saunders, effectively kept her out of play and away from circle edge, forcing much of the feeding work to go Langman during the first half of the match.
Just towards the end of the half, though still not overly convincing, the Australian attacking end was relishing some connection and fluency while they had it. As the old rivals headed into half time, the turnovers sat at 13 apiece but the Diamonds found themselves up by five goals, just as they had in the third quarter of the first test.
Together, Bassett and Tippett had seven turnovers between them, a statistic that would need to be remedied over the next 30 minutes.
Starting the second half the Ferns took to the court unchanged, but Alexander decided to change things up. Sarah Klau replaced Weston in the less familiar role of goal defence and in an interesting move, Tegan Philip entered the court for the first time in the series, moving Tippett to the bench. This was an intriguing switch as Tippett had until that point been the more impactful of the goalers having shouldered most of the shooting (16/16 to Bassett’s 10/11) and transition burdens during the first half.
Nevertheless, Philip played well by bringing dynamic movement and additional speed into the shooting circle. Being a shorter opponent also presented challenges for Burger and Jane Watson as they adjusted to the zipper goaler. While they found their feet, the Diamonds exploded out to a 10-goal lead.
The Ferns had become static under the pressure of the Australian defence forcing a change to their line-up. Whitney Souness, in her fifth cap for her country, was brought on in the hope of adding some drive and exuberance to the Ferns front end. Yet, despite some great athleticism from Langman, the spark had all but vanished. A hard-fought turnover from Souness sent the crowd wild but that did little to rival their team.
Halfway through the third quarter, the turnovers stats for both teams sat at 20, high for a domestic game, but certainly too many for an international of this calibre. The turnovers were making it hard for consistency to be maintained by either team, however, the score line indicated the Diamonds were making the most of the ball they were being given.
To try and change things up in the shooting circle, Bailey Mes came onto the court for Ekenasio. Fresh legs were also added to the Diamonds in the form of Jamie-Lee Price who came on for Brazill – another interesting move as Brazill was having a fine outting.
Just as Philip had come on and impressed with her speed and movement, Mes, for the Ferns was having the same impact. Bruce and Klau were now being split and often left chasing Mes along the baseline, which was creating lovely space for Folau.
Burger ignited the New Zealand fans, again, with a beautiful intercept that was capitalised by Folau. The transition sparked the Ferns to lift their intensity and go on a six-goal shooting spree. In a blink, they had the score line back to four, putting the pressure back on the Diamonds to stop the ascendency of the Ferns, who were looking to come home strong like they had in game one.
As has happened so many times with these two teams, it would come down the final quarter to decide the winner of the match.
The fourth quarter saw Bassett moved to the bench and Tippett re-enter the game against Burger, the two of them were having a physical encounter and such is
the toughness of both players, they were thoroughly enjoying it. With Philip moved to shooter, the Ferns defence were in for a tough, fast-moving goal circle in the final term.
Having now blown off the cobwebs Mes and Folau were left on for the final term and were showing the ease of a combination that has grown over many years of playing together. They read each other well, having the confidence to look to post for the other when they have ball in hand. Though Klau and Bruce were doing their best, the movement Mes had brought left them on the back foot. However, frustratingly for the crowd, too often when Mes had the chance to shoot, she would look to pass it off to Folau. Usually that would be a full-proof plan, however, Folau’s shooting percentage had dropped and the Ferns needed Mes needed to step up.
Hadley having gone quiet in the last few minutes was no longer punching through in attack, so Alexander had Scherian take her place, in the hope her fast feet could add a spark up front. It didn’t go quite to plan, however, as Rore, was smothering and cutting off leads. She provided great cover for the feeds which resulted in numerous gains for Burger and Watson. In transition, Rore was always an option. Her intensity and timing had improved as the game went on.
Burger was stamping her mark as the starting goal defence for the Ferns, and was keeping her team in the game. Unfortunately, the declining shooting percentage from the Ferns made her efforts go unrewarded.
Australia knew this was a must-win game and they had done enough to secure the win by six goals and level the series.
While the errors were high, the Diamonds’ intensity was greater and perhaps the attacking end enjoyed longer stretches of consistency. The moving circle and introduction of Philip gave them something extra and it could be argued that the strengths of both Tippett and Bassett were highlighted better with a smaller, moving shooter on court with them.
The defenders were the standouts in this game. Bruce was simply outstanding for Australia, very deserving of MVP. Burger for New Zealand had a fine game, considering the height difference against Tippett for most of the match. Both players were instrumental for their teams and should have done enough to secure starting spots next match.
With the last two games of the series in Australia and the Cup decided by aggregate goals in the event of even wins, it will take a big effort from the Ferns to over-run the Diamonds to take out the series. Saying that, if we have learnt anything over the years watching the Silver Ferns play, you can certainly never count them out.
Samsung Australian Diamonds 48 Defeated New Zealand Silver Ferns 42
MVP: Courtney Bruce
GS Maria Folau
GA Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA Shannon Saunders
C Laura Langman
WD Katrina Rore
GD Karin Burger
GK Jane Watson
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Gretal Tippett
WA Laura Scherian
C Liz Watson
WD Ash Brazill
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
Maria Folau 31/41 (76%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 8/11 (73%)
Bailey Mes 3/5 (60%)
Gretel Tippett 23/24 (96%)
Caitlin Bassett 17/20 (85%)
Tegan Philip 8/9 (89%)
Laura Langman (New Zealand) 18
Liz Watson (Australia) 15
Laura Scherian (Australia) 12
Courtney Bruce (Australia) 12
Karin Burger (New Zealand) 5
Sarah Klau (Australia) 4
** PLEASE NOTE that all photos used in this post are Netball Scoop’s archive photos from the recent Netball World Cup as we did not have a photographer on the ground at Game 2 of the Constellation Cup.