The Melbourne Vixens grabbed a last-minute win against the Collingwood Magpies in the first game of the second season of Suncorp Super Netball.
Dubbed “The Battle”, the first round of the Melbourne derby ended in brilliant fashion for the Vixens in a nail-biter at Hisense Arena.
Given the Magpies line-up they were favourites to win, particularly with the addition of an internationally experienced goal attack in Erin Bell.
After the first eight minutes of play the teams were all tied up, but the Magpies looked more comfortable, particularly in the second phase off the centre pass. The Vixens were struggling to make their way through the attacking midcourt with April Brandley and Ash Brazill disrupting the passage into the circle.
Liz Watson was getting plenty of ball, but struggling to make her usual impact, turning over the ball twice in the first quarter under intense pressure from Brazill and Kim Ravaillion.
Sharp shooter, Mwai Kumwenda was the stand out for the Vixens in the first quarter. One of the safest pair of hands in international netball, Kumwenda fended off Sharni Layton’s defensive pressure admirably. Layton was failing to adjust to umpiring calls and her impact on Kumwenda was limited.
Caitlin Thwaites was scoring from all over the circle for the Magpies. While Emily Mannix managed two deflections for the quarter, she couldn’t gain possession of the ball on either occasion. Bell was also strong in the circle, providing some excellent feeds and clearing runs into the circle.
The Magpies got out to a five-goal lead, before the Vixens called a tactical timeout. This worked exactly as the Vixens intended it to, with some sloppy attacking play by the Magpies letting the Vixens back into the contest and evening up the score right before quarter time.
The Vixens came out firing in the second quarter, with Kumwenda drawing Layton outside of the circle. Layton, who was still struggling to adjust to the umpires, was being penalised outside or on the edge of the circle. Tegan Philip was more than happy to slot goals from anywhere inside.
A tactical timeout of their own had no effect for the Magpies. If anything, the Vixens lifted and misses from both Thwaites and Bell at crucial times were picked up by Mannix and Jo Weston. In just three minutes, Philip scored five consecutive goals putting the Vixens out to a eight-goal lead.
Weston was doing an exceptional job of confusing space with turnovers coming thick and fast. Robinson and Ravaillion were hesitating on the feed due to the confusion of space, with Chloe Watson doing some excellent defensive work on the edge of the circle. Thwaites scored only three goals for the entire quarter.
A held-ball call on Philip at the end of the quarter and a superb defensive pickup by Brazill saw the Pies draw back two goals and go into the halftime break down by six.
In the third term, the Magpies seemed to regain some of their confidence in letting the ball go into Thwaites, but would have been disappointed at the number of balls they picked up in defence and were unable to convert. Bell stepped up her work rate in the quarter, scoring seven goals and delivering five goal assists.
The Magpies edged closer throughout the quarter. Brazill did some outstanding defensive work around the circle, picking up an intercept which was unfortunately then lost in the midcourt transition. The tussle between Brazill and Liz Watson was tight throughout. Watson is a brilliant feeder and often runs rings around her opposition, but Brazill was smothering her usual passages into the circle.
Layton changed up her defensive tactics in the third quarter, coming off the body more and giving her more of a chance to challenge for the ball against Kumwenda. She came through for her first intercept of the game towards the end of the quarter, picking up a long ball from the centre third. This was converted, but the following Magpies centre pass was intercepted by Vixens captain Kate Moloney, who then went into the last break up by two.
It was all on for the last quarter. Brandley opened proceedings with a magnificent intercept that was again lost down the other end by stepping from Robinson. Players from both sides were tiring, with Liz Watson also penalised for stepping and Kumwenda drawing a contact penalty with her arms all over Layton.
The latter call saw the Magpies draw even early in the quarter and their passage into the circle looked far easier than that of the Vixens. Smothering defence from Brandley, Layton and Brazill meant no journey into the circle was easy.
The Vixens seemed to be looking straight to Kumwenda rather than Philip. Philip was often free and within range, but the risky ball over the arms of Layton was preferred.
The Magpies maintained their slim lead going into the last five minutes of the game and it was all about scoring from their own centre pass while trying to pick up any ball possible in defence. A missed shot from Thwaites was rebounded incredibly by Bell.
To the Vixens’ credit, despite the pathway to goal looking much more laboured, they took good care of the ball. Ravaillion’s defence was too desperate towards the end of the game and took her out of play around the circle edge.
With just over two minutes on the clock, Bell missed a long shot. Whether her reluctance to pass to Thwaites was because of the looming presence of Mannix was unclear, but the rebound was quickly picked up giving the Vixens the chance to enter the lead.
A chance to even up the score with under 30 seconds was unsuccessful for the Pies, with a mistimed feed ending up in the lap of Mannix.
Next week, the Magpies make the long journey to Perth to face the rejigged West Coast Fever outfit, while the Melbourne Vixens will face the NSW Swifts at home on Sunday afternoon.
Melbourne Vixens 59 def Collingwood Magpies 58
(17-18, 33-27, 47-45, 59-58)
Player of the match: Mwai Kumwenda (Vixens)
Crowd: 6817, at Hisense Arena.
Kumwenda 41/42 98%
Philip 18/20 90%
Thwaites 36/38 95%
Bell 22/29 76%
Weston (Vixens) 4
Mannix (Vixens) 2
Brazill (Magpies) 3
Mannix (Vixens) 3
Starting line ups
WA L. Watson
WD C. Watson
What they said
Kristy Keppich-Birrell, Collingwood Magpies coach
On the narrow loss
“We won three quarters, so that’s a really telling stat for us, that when we stick to our plan that it actually worked, so we’re really proud of that and we’ll be celebrating the small wins there.”
On what went wrong in the second quarter
“We drifted off what we wanted to do defensively. We started to run with them rather than dictate what we wanted to be doing and that’s when we came off task and in offence just started to play into their hands a little bit instead of being in control of preparing our space.”
On Erin Bell’s impact
“Pretty spectacular, wasn’t she? Her speed and her agility at the moment is probably the best I’ve ever seen it in her and her strength on the ball. To be able to out-muscle someone like Jo Weston who’s a magnificent defender and a competitive, competitive person. I think she’s added something already.”
Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens coach
Thoughts on the game and the tight finish
“I thought it was a really tough game…it was a high quality game. I thought both sides played incredibly well at different times. I said to the girls at the end, I was just really proud of the way they worked right to the end and until they got that opportunity and I was really pleased with that obviously. But the other side is I think there’s a lot we can learn from that match because there’s a lot of areas where we weren’t so good. And I think we’ll learn as much – yeah we’ll enjoy the win, but the win shows us a lot to learn from as well.”
What was said in the timeout in the first quarter?
“I just thought we were a little bit passive and we just needed to be more aggressive, like defensively we needed to be more aggressive and have more presence and contest – it was about step up to it and add a bit more aggression to what we were doing.”
On the efforts of the shooters
“I haven’t looked at the stats – the shooting percentages were very good both ways. Kumwenda was a pretty good target for us and brought in some amazing balls and Tegan at times was really that draw for us as well. But I think it was on and off in attack in terms of that flow and letting that ball go.”
Images: Kirsten Daley / Netball Scoop