Wales have won their first match of the Commonwealth Games over Fiji to claim 11th place on the Gold Coast.
Both countries battled hard all competition but only one would come away with their only win of the week. It was a determined Welsh outfit who romped home by 49 goals.
With so many injuries, it left Fiji with more empty seats on the bench than players. Wales jumped out to a 5-0 start, with basic handling errors denting the confidence of the Fijians.
Kelly Morgan was reading the cross-court passing in defence as the margin stretched to nine halfway through the term. To make matters worse for Fiji, captain Luisani Rokoura was cautioned towards the end of the quarter for persistent offside.
Miscommunication between Naqiri and Waqanidrola allowed Sarah Llewelyn to feed Chelsea Lewis uncontested in many passages down court. Wales enjoyed far more possession which was reflected in a 32-9 scoreline, as Lewis set about firing goals at will, with Varet and Jones having perfect readership of the defensive zone.
Welsh interim coach Julie Hoornweg emptied the bench at halftime which led to a disjointed third term.
Caralee Moseley and Georgia Rowe were in fine form, and found plenty of space on the baseline, but it was a scratchy 15 minutes that saw Wales only win the term 15-11.
Wales opened the last quarter with a 10-2 run as Commonwealth Games darling Laisani Waqa re-entered the game, but the Welsh juggernaut continued to roll on.
Coach Hoornweg was happy with the team’s performance in their final match.
“We probably put into action most of the things we’ve been talking about all week. The good thing is that they’ve been watching videos and been talking about it and we weren’t perfect but we were certainly good today.”
Nia Jones starred in the defence end and finished with eight deflections and two intercepts, only bettered by Alisi Naqiri who collected 10 and three respectively.
Wales 81 def Fiji 32
(21-5, 43-17, 58-28, 81-32)
Waqa 9/12 75%
Cirikisuva 10/12 83%
M. Rusivakula 7/10 70%
U. Ruivakula 6/6 100%
Lewis 35/39 90%
Llewelyn 9/12 75%
Rowe 25/26 95%
Moseley 12/12 100%
Starting line ups
What they said
Julie Hoornweg, Wales coach
How do you sum up the tournament?
“A learning experience for all of us. When you start working with new athletes you’ve got to find out who they are. We had a pretty low part in the middle of the week. To come out of that and not say “It’s too hard”, or give in and find some quality netball at the end of the week is fantastic. And we got them all on today which was great. We wanted to finish with some oldies (on court), because maybe they won’t be around much longer.”
Have you developed a tight bond with the girls?
“They’re great kids. A tight bond? Maybe a cranky bond sometimes. I think they’re enjoying it – they keep saying they are. It’s just some new ideas, a new way of playing the game. They’re enjoying the freedom – I let them make decisions and encourage them to make decisions on court.”
What’s the next step for the team?
“They go back home and back into the England Superleague for most of them. I go back for a couple of weeks, maybe a few months and then I come back home. I only promised to stay on for the short term. They’ll be looking for a new coach. I’m getting to old for this! The energy I need to do it just wears me out some days.”
Vicki Wilson, Fiji coach
Where to from here for Fiji?
“We have to build depth in our playing ranks. We’re very lite on goalers in Fiji at the moment. We don’t have sufficient depth to cover us for a squad set up. We need to be able to scout for talent and for players to be committed and develop an understanding of strength and conditioning and what’s required to play at this level.”
Is that one of the biggest challenges you’ve come across in taking on the head coach role?
“It’s not only players, but the general community and the netball community understanding the importance of strength and conditioning and having a solid base to be able to compete at this level. It takes a long time, you know, a year of getting conditioning under your belt and training consistently.”
World Cup Qualifiers are next week. What happens with respect to replacing injured players?
“We’re working our way through the list at the moment. We just need to do a bit of a tally of our injuries. We know we’ve lost a number of players who won’t be able to travel. The great thing about playing this competition is that it’s made us match fit, which we couldn’t get in Fiji.”
“We played six games here and four in New Zealand, so to have ten games over the past month has been the best preparation you could ask for. It’s not ideal going in losing some of our key players, but we just hope that our rest and recovery over the next five days is really important for us to come back our fresh and play hard.”
Some teams came here looking for a medal, what was your expectation for Fiji?
“For our two targeted games against Barbados and Northern Ireland – for us to be competitive. To take them right down to the wire. Unfortunately against Barbados we played with a player short for the last quarter, so that wasn’t possible. And by the time we got to Northern Ireland we’d been decimated by injury so we struggled to field a team. So those two goals became irrelevant. It became more about the manpower we had to get out there.”
“Last year I said that we were ranked 12th and when you play in a pool of six, it’s always really, really hard.”
Looking to the World Youth Cup in 2021, how important do you think this exposure was for the team in terms of getting some public support for the event?
“Hosting the 2021 World Youth Cup is wonderful for Fiji. We’ve got some really, really talented players. One of them was out on court, Laisani Waqa. She could anchor that team. And we’ve got some really good players back home and also studying in New Zealand. Looking around, that team will perform very, very well and could very well medal if those girls work hard.”
Speaking of medals, who’s your tip to take out the Gold?
“Australia and Jamaica I would think would be in that final. I watched Jamaica play last week and they were so slick. They weren’t so slick last night but I’m sure they’ll re-gather momentum and be able to charge towards the final. We’ll wait and see.”
Suzy Drane, Wales captain
“A much better performance today by us, and it was nice to see Julie getting everyone on the court. You know, spirts high, after what’s probably been a tough tournament for us in terms of having missed one game by four goals, and bitterly disappointed with that, but most of all not performing how we knew we could. I think we saw more of the Welsh flair today.”
On the support
“There’s a lot. Our friends and family are probably the best people to answer that question. They stand by us and they’re so supportive, and the management help us with that, and our kinda lifestyle coaches. We’re up in the morning, we’ve got full time day jobs. There’s lots and lots of things – you couldn’t even begin to say what we give up, but we do it because we love the sport! And that’s the most important thing. We unite together, and we know that it’s tough for people. Get on the court, train hard, and play hard, that’s what matters most!”
What’s next for you?
“I don’t know! I’m just gonna have a summer holiday and think. This is my third Commonwealth Games, maybe my 13th year playing netball. We’ll see what’s next and what the next challenge brings. I’m probably going to speak to Julie and see what she thinks and see what happens next. I’ve had such a good tour and still really, really enjoying it, and that’s what keeps me going!”
Tell us about Team Wales
“So, so good. Really united and together. I think that was demonstrated when we had some supporters that’d come down today and they’d really lived with us in the camp. There was disappointment on Tuesday night after the Scotland game and they felt that too, so they came down and they knew today was gonna be really important for us. So we’re really grateful that Team Wales brought us out here to Australia and they’ve welcomed us in all together and we’re now gonna be supporting the rest of the teams and individuals that’re still in their events.”
Luisani Rokoura, Fiji captain
“Not the result we wanted, but again another learning experience for us, back to the drawing board for us, as we head into the qualifiers (for World Cup) next week to New Zealand. So that’s our aim for now, as we build towards that.”
It’s a shame you had so many injuries
“Kahatoka, Alesi, I think there’s three. Kahatoka our defender, unfortunately they have to check on her knee again.”
How has the whole Commonwealth Games experience been?
“It’s been exciting, being back after eight years, it’s been an honour to be here. We’ve taken on the experience. Most of us, this is our first Commonwealth Games, so hopefully the younger ones will come again. But overall, we just can’t compromise our preparations, and I believe we could have done better.”
Will you be back for the World Cup or longer?
“Only God and time will tell.”