It’s been a long three years for Fast5 fans but this weekend it was back, the festive atmosphere picking up right where it left off. Hosted in Ōtautahi Christchurch, New Zealand may have been the reigning champions but most eyes were on Australia – recent Commonwealth champions and home of the two point supershot – who’d never previously taken out the title. And as an added bonus, for the first time on the big stage three men’s teams were also competing.
After a busy season that included the Commonwealth Games, multiple countries used it as an opportunity for younger player development, to create depth and offer players some international exposure. As a result, there were a few unknown names featuring on team lists but it didn’t take long for those young guns to make their mark.
Day 1 wrap
Australia and New Zealand both opened their campaigns with convincing wins against Jamaica and Uganda, respectively. England’s first match was against South Africa and although they recorded a loss, it was all up for England from there as they went on to beat New Zealand and Uganda. Jamaica had a tough day losing all matches, going on to lose to Uganda and South Africa, while New Zealand was much the same, later losing to England and Australia – putting themselves in a sudden death position for Day 2. Australia were at ease, slotting three from three against Jamaica, NZ and South Africa.
The beauty of the power play is that games can change on a dime. NZ, Uganda and Jamaica felt the pain of this, as last second super shots by England and South Africa saw them securing wins. England snagged two wins, against both Uganda and NZ in the dying moments of the game, showing their composure as the pressure heated up.
As expected, the men’s netball brought with it flair and athleticism in spades. In recent weeks the Australian men have had two successful test series against both New Zealand and England, so they were coming in on form. Australia beat England and followed that up with a win against NZ, making them clear favourites for the final.
Match of the day: two games here deserve mention. The Uganda v England match proved to be a thriller, as both teams had to go through both feelings of winning and losing the match. As the final whistle blew, England were all set to take a shot from the 3 point line to win the game. They scored the penalty and won the match… or so they thought. It quickly transpired this was not the case, as the ruling was that it didn’t count. Nobody celebrates quite as enthusiastically as Uganda and the heartbreak was evident on the faces of the English.
But then – plot twist, the ruling was overturned and England took the win! An emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. The final match of the day was a game of two halves – as New Zealand clawed their way back from a 13-goal deficit only to be pipped at the post in the final seconds of the match, despite being presented with opportunities to take the win.
Day 2 wrap
Uganda, the fan favourites, started their day off with an impressive win against Australia. The atmosphere in the stadium was positively electric, the majority of the crowd were brought to their feet and plenty stayed standing throughout Uganda’s celebration. After a one point loss to South Africa, New Zealand were out of final contention. A lot was riding on the last match of the day, where a win by South Africa would see them play Australia in the final, but a loss to Uganda would mean it went to countbacks (and England would have had a chance too). South Africa were consistent in their performance, going on to secure themselves a place in the final.
The New Zealand men’s team wasted no time in showing England what they were capable of, resulting in a NZ v Australia final. The match could have been any ones, but a clutch performance from Thomson Matuku in the last minute of the game saw two power play shots (amounting to six points) save the game, and the day (final score 29-25, NZ).
In the play-off for 5th and 6th, Uganda absolutely dealt it to Jamaica, who struggled to get it to their shooters and through the hoop (final score 32-10). In a replay of the bronze medal match at the Commonwealth Games, New Zealand and England played off for 3rd and 4th, and in a similar fashion, New Zealand pulled off the win. The Kiwi defenders gained an impressive amount of ball and Georgia Heffernan and Aliyah Dunn were swift in their long range conversions. It remained close throughout, but the Fast5 Ferns edged further ahead in the last quarter, going onto secure bronze (final score 39-25, New Zealand).
In spectacular fashion, the Australians took out the final with ease. While the first half felt close, South Africa were held scoreless in the last quarter meaning the Australians really grew in confidence and didn’t hold back with their shots (final score 34-20, Australia).
Tara Hinchliffe (Australia) – the Australian captain had a phenomenal two days, leading by example and having a commanding presence on the court.
Mary Nuba Cholhok (Uganda) – rightfully earning the player of the series, Mary was exceptional in her game play and clutch shots (especially against Australia!) throughout the series.
Georgia Heffernan (New Zealand) – cool as a cucumber, Georgia’s ability to shoot under pressure bodes well for her future in NZ netball. (Not to be confused with her identical twin sister Kate, current Silver Fern midcourter)
Nicole Taljaard (South Africa) – one of the many unfamiliar South African names going into the tournament, but sure to be the future of South African netball. Taljaard earned player of the tournament.
Romelda Aiken-George (Jamaica) – fantastic seeing her back so shortly after the birth of her child, and playing not just in GS, but GK too. Jamaican’s depth in the shooting circle meant Romelda’s length could be utilised down the other end.
Elle McDonald (England) – a versatile mid courter who we have seen play with the Adelaide Thunderbirds in Suncorp SSN, we saw her revel in the opportunity to play for her home country.
Taylor Glassie (Australia men) – Glassie played almost every minute across the games, and was outstanding with his strength in both attack and defence.
Tim Apisai (New Zealand men) – strong in the air, Apisai not only got up for rebounds, but put enormous pressure over the shot.
Jamal Nicholson (England men) – a versatile player who can play at both ends of the court, Nicholson pulled off a number of speccy intercepts during the games.
How good is the men’s netball?! Sure, there were only three teams, but the sporting prowess of these men makes for a spectacular watch. They must be loving the international season they’ve just had and hopefully their time in the spotlight continues to see the sport grow.
It was Uganda’s first appearance at the Fast5 (qualifying over Malawi this time around) and the first time they have ever beaten Australia in netball (traditional or Fast5). Although they only finished 5th in the tournament, Mary Nuba Cholhok also walked away as player of the tournament. This is great building for the World Cup next year, especially coming off the back of their 5th place result at the Commonwealth Games.
England and South Africa were both particularly impressive, considering the young players they brought into the tournament. This shows excellent depth amongst both countries’ squads and again, bodes well for the future.
The 90 second powerplay made for some incredibly suspenseful netball, where the course (and outcome) of a game could completely change in less than a minute. This significantly increases the pressure placed on the shooters, as they have a greater ability to make or break a game. While some fans love the drama of coaches choosing when to use the powerplay, having it at the end of each quarter is more equitable, with neither team wanting to slow down the play.