Gutsy Diamonds fight back to level series
Never write off the dogged Australians.
Invariably, just when you least expect it, they'll bite you in the bum.
Everything seemed to be stacked against Australia at Auckland's Vector Arena. Even the odds-makers had them as unusual rank underdogs.
Yet, with a typical backs-to-the-wall effort, they pulled out their most convincing display in over a year to break a five-match losing streak and level the Constellation Cup netball series at 1-1 with a deserved 47-45 win.
The final three tests of this series are in Australia, but a loss here would have been a heartbreaking blow. Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander labelled it a "gold medal" match - and her side responded to her challenge.
Down one-nil in the five-test series, it was clear from the outset the Australians were hurt. Their extensive warm-ups, which included a full-contact practice match, said as much.
This was a typically feisty encounter where players hit the deck hard from collisions as every scrap of possession was fought for. But the consistently furrowed brow of Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu painted a revealing picture.
Taumaunu bucked the trend of sticking to a winning formula, making two changes her starting seven that put away the Australians by five goals in Invercargill. Anna Thompson was promoted over rookie Courtney Tairi at wing attack and Leana de Bruin got the not ahead of Katrina Grant at goal keep.
That didn't solve the Ferns' problems again at wing attack, though. Like Tairi in the first test, Thompson struggled to shake intense attention from Renae Hallinan.
Tairi made an impact when injected for Thompson at half-time. But the Ferns effectively played one player down on the attacking front and, therefore, battled to establish any sort of ascendancy.
Australia's through-court attack, meanwhile, flowed generously. All too often it was all too easy. They only confronted challenges at the defensive end, where Casey Kopua returned to her menacing best.
Despite the aggressive efforts of the Ferns captain and de Bruin, Caitlin Bassett's commanding presence provided an easy target. The towering shooter was hard to stop, shooting an impressive 32/36.
The hustling visitors led by seven goals in the first-half and it took two five-goal fightbacks for the Ferns to scrap their way to 22-all at the major interval. Clearly, the Ferns were being outplayed but, somehow, in-front of 7000 supporters, they kept in touch.
Still, you know something is not right when Maria Tutaia's long bombs aren't dropping, she struggles with close-in shots and Irene van Dyk misses gimmes from under the hoop. Tutaia shot just 66 per cent (20/30) while van Dyk had 25/29. That's just abnormal. The pair didn't cope with defender Bianca Chatfield.
These uncharacteristic errors - Tutaia committed eight turnovers and Laura Langman was guilty of seven - allowed the Diamonds' self-belief to lift further as they kicked away - winning the third quarter by five goals.
This time, the comeback wasn't enough.