Ferns know Australia have medal momentum

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
Wai Taumaunu
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

RALLYING CRY: Coach Wai Taumaunu is demanding the absolute best from her Silver Ferns.

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Most two-time defending champions sport something of a swagger.

The Silver Ferns, though, have nothing to be cocky about as they contemplate the defence of their Commonwealth Games crown.

Last year's 4-1 Constellation Cup capitulation to Australia revealed a gulf between the gold medal favourites which hasn't usually been so evident. We hear ad nauseam how close these encounters are, how little separates the teams.

But from 1-0 up in the cup series last year, the Silver Ferns never looked like winning the next three games and threw away victory in the fourth.

Irene van Dyk, Courtney Tairi, Anna Thompson and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit are the only casualties from that series loss - not that any of them took the court after game three anyway.

So the personnel won't be demonstrably different when the Silver Ferns begin their Glasgow campaign against Malawi on July 25. But when they (hopefully) meet Australia in the final nine days later, the trend of recent results will have to suddenly change.

Nothing less than their very best performance will be good enough and, yet, that knowledge doesn't remotely daunt New Zealand coach Waimarama Taumaunu.

"No, because that's the reality of it," Taumaunu said from the latest team camp yesterday, in Auckland.

"But there's a growing realisation that we can do that and, if we do, we're certainly a real prospect to win a gold medal. That permeates the atmosphere around here and we've done it before; it's not as though it's an impossible task.

"Constellation Cup was hugely disappointing, but had we hit a few more shots we just about would've taken it 3-2, rather than lost it 4-1."

This camp, which finishes today, is the team's third since it was named on June 10 but the first one attended by its Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic contingent. Captain Casey Kopua and fellow defender Leana de Bruin have slotted in seamlessly, as you'd expect, but it's been a big week for shooter Ellen Halpenny.

Taumaunu said some new players spend their first camp panic-stricken. Halpenny had been "a little overwhelmed" but is handling the prospect of making her debut at the Commonwealth Games better than many would.

But her late introduction has been a bit of a nuisance. Repetition and accuracy have been the theme of the camps, particularly at the attacking end.

The Silver Ferns simply couldn't find each other in their most recent series against Australia. Wing attack Liana Leota, back after a three-year absence, is seen as the remedy but has to rediscover her best form first.

Her fitness wasn't up to much during her appearances for the Central Pulse this year, but Taumaunu said Leota was almost back to her 2011 conditioning levels. She'll need to be, if the team are to secure a third successive gold medal.

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- The Dominion Post

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