The Silver Ferns have slumped to a record 13 goal loss against England, in the first leg of the Quad Series in Auckland. The 52-39 victory by the visitors, was a powerful and symbolic performance, as the Roses asserted themselves as more than just a one hit wonder after grabbing gold on the Gold Coast back in April.
The buzz leading into the match was unsurprisingly centred around the return of Laura Langman and the arrival of Noeline Taurua – who many believe is the woman to lead New Zealand back to the top come the World Cup next year.
But with just five days to prepare her squad before of the series opener, reality soon set in. The Ferns lacked cohesion on attack and slumps on defence, dominated by their English rivals for all but one quarter of the match.
The visitors were quick out of the gates, leaving New Zealand paralysed. Sharp drives from Chelsea Pitman and Serena Guthrie allowed easy flow of ball into Jo Harten, who was deadly accurate shooting the Roses out to a five goal lead after the first fifteen. At the other end of the court, the Ferns looked rather woeful. Ekenasio and Folau were stagnant in goal, smothered defensively by Mentor and Guscoth who were impressive from the outset.
At times the Ferns needed its goal attack to roll the top and create some movement. But too often Folau was caught stationary, pointing her feeders to where she wanted the ball, rather than driving onto it. Ekenasio too, looked out of sorts, pinned to the baseline managing just three goals. Accuracy wasn’t much better either – the Ferns mustering up just a 68% accuracy collectively.
The Ferns defensive trio sparked the home side into life in the second period; Katrina Grant collecting a handful of possessions and Jane Watson hauling in a series of rebounds. Harten’s radar was off slightly, allowing the Ferns to claw back the deficit. Folau’s hand was hot in this quarter, lifting her game to nail 8/10 – mostly at range.
A late surge by the Ferns in the final minutes of the first half, drew the home team back into the contest. But panic and a lack of on-court communication from Sinclair, Crampton and Langman set in, with 12 seconds to play. The Ferns had the opportunity to equalize and draw level, but wasted away possession with poor decision making.
Te Paea Selby Rickit was injected in at goal shoot for the second half. Although she started well, providing a stronger target for Crampton and Sinclair, she only managed to score 7 goals in 30 minutes of netball. No team will win a contest with its main shooter delivering that little output and this should be a major concern for the Ferns ahead of Tuesday’s encounter with South Africa.
In contrast, England stormed on – Nat Haythornthwaite was introduced at wing attack after half time – as the visitors flexed their muscles to win the quarter by three. Haythornthwaite was dominant off the line and provided accurate supply to Housby and Harten, who also switched positions.
The match dropped in intensity through the final fifteen – as both coaches tinkered with their line ups. Taurua took the opportunity to introduce Elisapeta Toeava and Karin Burger, taking to the wings respectively in their test debuts. Toeava’s explosive speed was a highlight and it will be intriguing to see how her minutes are managed across the Quad Series. At 161cm, she is the definition of a pocket rocket and could pose a headache for rival defenders this international season.
There is no doubt that better days are ahead for the Silver Ferns. But tonight’s performance gives the group a marker of where they’re at and the level they need to lift to ahead of Liverpool next year.
The timeframe is tight, but if anyone can make a miracle happen – it’s Noeline Taurua. Her success at club level is well documented, as is her ability to work with the resources and players offered to her.
She is known for innovative and out of the box thinking and the Ferns will need that in bucket loads over the coming months.
Taurua made her mark as a coach in the mid 2000s, leading the Magic to back-to-back titles in the New Zealand domestic league. In those days she made head waves for wearing an ear piece during matches – a wire that apparently fed into a performance analyst, who would provide match analytics in real time. Hardly groundbreaking in today’s era, but a rather innovative play for netball at the time.
It’s that sort of unorthodox thinking that the Ferns will benefit from as they build across the Quad Series and Constellation Cup. The next challenge will be the South African Proteas in Tauranga on Tuesday – a match the Ferns desperately need to win for both pride and confidence moving forward.
Earlier, the Australian Diamonds opened their Quad Series campaign with a 61-44 win over South Africa. The Diamonds only held a four-goal advantage at the main break, but broke the game open with a decisive 18-8 third term. Australian captain Caitlin Bassett was the most prolific on court scoring 31/34 at 91%. Australia face England on Wednesday in Newcastle.
England 52 def New Zealand 39
(13-8, 22-21, 38-34, 52-39)
Player of the Match: Geva Mentor (England)
Harten 23/31 74%
Housby 28/31 90%
Corbin 1/3 33%
Ekenasio 10/18 56%
Folau 22/30 73%
Selby-Rickit 7/9 78%
What they said
Noeline Taurua switching Folau for Ekenasio in the final quarter
“Start of the fourth quarter (Folau) had three balls in hand, two shots and one pass. So that’s actually saying something. Maria is a star, she’s a legend, she’s amazing. But also it’s about keeping possession of the ball and everyone needs to be able to do their job. What that did was give (Ekenasio) an opportunity and she provided us a bit of speed and movement.”
Taurua on her team’s poor shooting efforts
“It wasn’t good. Wasn’t the standard required to be a Silver Fern and not the standard I would expect from those players; hugely an area we need to work on but also our ability to handle the physicality.”
Taurua on the physicality
“We play a certain style in regards to space [in the ANZ Premiership], it looked very foreign for some of the players not used to that physicality and this is something we need to get used to. We need to be smarter and if we take the body on, we need to take it on stronger.”
Taurua looking ahead
“This is a starting point. This defintely shows the areas [we need] improvement. I’ve never seen a scoreboard like that in my life. But that’s how it goes and it gives me clear direction about where we need to work on and priorities in this short given time.”
Report: Alex Blair
Photos: May Bailey
Cover image: Simon Leonard