Ferns on top as Diamonds below par
Silver Ferns Defeat Australia 55-51HAMISH BIDWELL
The Constellation Cup is New Zealand’s to lose, after methodically dismantling an underwhelming Australian 55-51 side at Invercargill last night.
In a strangely flat test, that didn’t live up to the usual heights of Silver Ferns v Diamonds encounters, the home side wrested the initiative and never surrendered it.
These matches have traditionally been knife-edge affairs, but this one wasn’t.
It’s not that it wasn’t a contest or that the players weren’t trying; you’d never accuse netballers of stinting in their effort.
But the knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out-type stuff we’ve become accustomed to at trans-Tasman Netball League level just wasn’t as evident.
It’s two years since Norma Plummer last coached the Diamonds and it’s hard not to feel as if her absence has robbed this series of something. Certainly theatre, given her propensity to play the pantomime villain, but also toughness.
Plummer is a hard woman who created a team in her image. Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu is little different – she just smiles more.
But new Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander just seems a bit nondescript and so do her team right now. Having surrendered last year’s series, then lost 3-0 away to England, the Diamonds simply don’t have the same hard edge as the team’s that Plummer built.
Partly through the assistance of the umpires, but mostly courtesy of their own fine play, the Ferns had little trouble building an early lead. A five-goal advantage soon became seven and you just wondered when a Diamond would put their best shoulder forward and send a Silver Fern spiralling to the floor.
That sort of thing isn’t necessarily in the spirit of the game, but it’s become commonplace and certainly signals a bit of intent. Australia were playing with plenty of skill, especially at the attacking end where goal shoot Caitlin Bassett routinely left New Zealand’s Katrina Grant for dead, but there’s was none of the naked desire that’s been their trademark.
Not starting Bianca Chatfield didn’t help the Diamonds. Rebecca Bulley started in her place and was entirely ineffectual until replaced at quarter time, with the Ferns up 19-14.
The most eye-catching change at that point had been bringing on rookie Kim Ravaillion for Maddy Browne. Kim Green pushed up to Browne’s spot at wing attack, with Ravaillion, player of the tournament at the recent World Youth Championship, taking the centre bib.
It was a big call, but paid reasonable dividends for Alexander. Browne is widely-regarded as the finest wing attack around, while Ravaillion is still in the special project phase of her career.
As is starting Ferns wing attack Courtney Tairi. You could have been forgiven for forgetting she was out there in the first half.
Instead of Tairi getting the ball through court and into the hands of Maria Tutaia and Irene van Dyk in the shooting circle, it was the old stagers that dominated proceedings.
From Casey Kopua, to Joline Henry, then Laura Langman and Tutaia, the ball fairly raced through to van Dyk. Diamonds wing defence Renae Hallinan is as good as it gets, but there was little she could do to stop the direct passage of ball through to New Zealand’s shooters.
Tutaia has been labelled as a bit of a Ma’a Nonu over the years, in that she seldom fires at franchise level, but is deadly when she dons the national strip. Well, given how poorly Nonu’s going in the All Blacks, Tutaia’s now in a league of her own in that regard.
Her Northern Mystics were horrific this year and her form hardly stellar. But she has lost none of her ability to shine on the biggest stage.
If you’re looking for work-ons, then Tairi and Grant have a couple. It could have been the team’s overall dominance, but their respective replacements – Anna Thompson and Leana de Bruin – seemed to make a better fist of things.
Happily, though, that signals depth, which hadn’t loomed as one of New Zealand’s greatest strengths ahead of the series.
- © Fairfax NZ News