Ferns sacrifice winning at the altar of honour
HAMISH BIDWELL IN CANBERRA
The Constellation Cup series took place on court but it was played along ideological lines.
As the series wore on it became, at least from the Silver Ferns' side, a case of we don't like how you play and, in some instances, we don't like you much as people either.
That feeling was summed up during the second half of the final test at Canberra.
After Australian captain Laura Geitz made a theatrical dive to the floor, it was impossible not to hear the reaction of her opposite number Casey Kopua.
Without wanting to incriminate the Silver Ferns skipper, she certainly made it clear she did not believe the fall was legitimate and did not think a great deal of Geitz for trying to con the umpires that it was.
New Zealand's response to all that had been a burning desire to show their way of play was better.
Unfortunately, the only reply that truly counts is the result and the Silver Ferns could not hang on to win that game and finished 4-1 losers in the series.
That is a whopping deficit and showed that, for now at least, Australia are clearly the better side.
New Zealand were hard done by at times but not to the extent that the outcome of the series was unfair.
As the defeats mounted up - and there were four in succession following the first test win at Invercargill - the focus of coach Waimarama Taumaunu became performance and development. She sacrificed, in the case of Irene van Dyk, proven winning ability, in the hope Cathrine Latu might turn into a legitimate option at goal shoot down the track.
By and large, Taumaunu's aims were met.
"I'm pleased that we were able to focus on an aspect of play and improve it and maintain the other bits because, in the past, we've focused on something and other things have fallen apart," Taumaunu said.
Some of those improvements were brought about by umpiring.
The Silver Ferns conceded a startling number of penalties while in possession and mostly rectified those. At other times they were poor at bringing the ball through court and, in the final test, did that with far more poise and precision.
The series was ultimately defined by their wretched performance in the second test at Auckland. The Silver Ferns should have won, didn't, and never really regained the initiative. "Of all the games, Auckland's the one. We were poor and I'm still angry about it. With this one here [in Canberra] I'm really disappointed about the loss but probably the most pleased I've been about our performance," said Taumaunu, after Sunday's 50-49 defeat.
Now it is on to the home series against Malawi. Out will go midcourters Courtney Tairi and Anna Thompson, with Katarina Cooper coming in. That was always Taumaunu's plan, although it appears the midcourt pair might not surface again for a while.
Their absence will take the squad, which was 13-strong in Australia, back to the preferred number of 12.
Some of them should not feel too safe. With Anna Harrison, Kayla Cullen, Millie Lees, Liana Leota and Bailey Mes all likely to return to the reckoning next year, Taumaunu should have a group in which there will be genuine competition for places. The coach's own performance was good. She was canny and bold with her selections and is continually making her players better.
There are other people in the background but Taumaunu is basically the sole coach, selector, spokeswoman and psychologist, and does it all with aplomb.
PLAYER RATINGS - SILVER FERNS:
Cathrine Latu - 6.5
Improving at a good rate. Showed skill and tenacity at times and should blossom from this experience. Is a deceptively good athlete who needs to believe in herself more.
Irene van Dyk - 6.5
An unhappy series, in the sense that she didn't play as much as she'd like. Still the team's best shooter, but needs to be more available to the feeders and lift her volume of shots. A bit of help from the umpires wouldn't go amiss.
Maria Tutaia - 7
So brave and such a competitor. Some of the shots she makes are simply amazing and a credit to her belief that she can hit them from everywhere. Doesn't like to give much away, but was clearly frustrated by some of the umpiring. "I need to hide that face," she quipped after the final test.
Shannon Francois - 7
Great engine and excellent competitor, she was certainly the find of the series. Needs to develop the subtlety and range of passing that separates the workmanlike from the world class.
Anna Thompson - 5
Still a work in progress at wing attack. Her ability to play goal attack gives her utility value, but hasn't quite nailed her primary role.
Courtney Tairi - 5
Nice player and accurate feeder. Was a bit anonymous at times and needs to learn to be better off the ball and easier for her team-mates to find.
Laura Langman - 7
Did well not to lose her rag during the third test. Called for some weird and wonderful things that she'll never be penalised for again, Langman remains the team rock. Consistent, aggressive and skilful.
Joline Henry - 8
A marvel. Mum to a 10-month-old, Henry was not in great shape. But she's just so mentally hard, so driven, so ruthless, that she was able to compensate. Superb series.
Casey Kopua - 8
Took an injury into the Australian leg of the series, but you couldn't tell. Cut from the same cloth as Henry and so desperate to deliver victories for her team. Deeply wounded by the series result, she did all she could to gain a different outcome.
Leana de Bruin - 6.5
Solid series, interrupted by injury. Matches up well on Diamonds goal shoot Caitlin Bassett and that could be a telling factor, come the Commonwealth Games.
Katrina Grant - 6
Got better after a very poor start. Battled with Bassett, but seemed to have developed a strategy by the fourth test. Although coming out hunting for the ball can be high risk stuff.
Also: Jodi Brown and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit were on the bench but didn't play.
CONSTELLATION CUP RESULTS:
At Invercargill: 55-51 to New Zealand
At Auckland: 48-45 to Australia
At Adelaide: 58-50 to Australia
At Melbourne: 52-47 to Australia
At Canberra: 50-49 to Australia
- © Fairfax NZ News