Silver Ferns search for fitness, pace

FIT AND READY: Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu insists her team don't trail Australia in the conditioning stakes.
FIT AND READY: Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu insists her team don't trail Australia in the conditioning stakes.

The Silver ferns look a step slower than Australia, but are not.

With coach Waimarama Taumaunu soon to assemble New Zealand's top 26 netballers, for a five-day trial, theories on how the Silver Ferns can close the 18-goal chasm that emerged between themselves and the Diamonds at the Commonwealth Games are thin on the ground.

But one of the more popular quick fixes is fitness. Notwithstanding the injuries the Silver Ferns sustained in Glasgow, there's a firm belief in netball circles that the players aren't in the same nick as their Australian counterparts.

Taumaunu placed real emphasis on improving the squad's conditioning, when she became head coach in late 2011. She doubted the Silver Ferns have lost more ground on Australia in that area since.

"It's really hard to gauge, other than by just looking at it. But, with the little bit of data that we have, I'd say yes [we are as fit as Australia]," Taumaunu said.

"We've improved. The Australians are our benchmark and there are areas where we're on a par and areas where we're slightly behind and there are areas where we're ahead.

"I would say we're on a par."

All the same, Australia did look faster and more athletic in the Commonwealth Games final. The reason, believes wing New Zealand wing defence Joline Henry, was that the Diamonds simply played better.

With the Silver Ferns producing so little in response, Australia were never put under pressure or pushed into fatigue, which created a greater gap between the speed of the two teams' play.

"I tell you what, they seemed pretty quick, but I never felt physically behind the eight-ball. It was more that I felt they knew what they were doing," Henry said.

"Their first, second-ball release was phenomenal and it seemed like they were passing before the person even got there. That's really hard to defend.

"Their team connections and structures were a lot more sound than I've ever seen them before and that made them seem a lot faster."

If that's the explanation, then it's hard to know which scenario is worse: that the Australians are much better athletes than the Silver Ferns, or that they were better-coached and had a superior game plan?

Taumaunu still contends that injuries at New Zealand's shooting end distorted the whole picture. Left with just nine fully fit players for the bulk of the Games, she feels it was almost inevitable that the Silver Ferns would wilt when it came to the final.

October's four-test Constellation Cup series will provide a more definitive answer. New Zealand have now lost five successive tests to Australia and have serious work to do if they are to reverse that trend.

Fairfax Media