Malawian scare a positive, say Silver Ferns
NATHAN BURDON AND MATT RICHENS IN GLASGOW
The New Zealand netball team aren't used to being pushed in the early stages of a tournament, but think last night's Malawi scare might be a positive.
It's hard to imagine them saying that if they'd dropped the match, but they didn't, narrowly squeezing past the Queens 50-47 to open the defence of their Commonwealth Games gold with a win.
Malawi were good and better than expected. But the Silver Ferns were far from their best.
Coach Waimarama Taumaunu was unhappy how much ball they gave away while the two-times Games champions also took too long to get used to the inconsistent umpiring.
Malawi did enough to warn they could be an outside medal chance in Glasgow. The Ferns didn't do enough to frighten their main rivals, the Australian Diamonds.
Jodi Brown was playing her first Games match after missing the 2006 tournament through a knee injury on the eve of the event. She then missed the Delhi Games four years ago as she was pregnant with daughter Aria.
"It's not too bad that we got pushed today," she said.
"We very rarely have tough games like this early in these competitions. It might be a good thing for us, I think it will be, we'll get better in the competition."
Brown came on at halftime and was rapt to break her Games duck.
"It's been quite hard to control my emotions," she said.
"Every time we have a Kiwi function or something new that just happens in the Commonwealth Games, I have a quick look around and hope no-one is going to see me cry. I'm finally here."
If she's hoping her Glasgow Games will be golden, the Ferns must improve as the tournament goes on.
The fifth-ranked Malawi team, who couldn't get any closer than 19 goals to their opponents during a three-test series in New Zealand in October, out-shot and out-rebounded their more fancied rivals and came very close to dishing up one of the biggest upsets in netball history.
Taumaunu started with close to her strongest lineup; Cathrine Latu at goal shoot with Maria Tutaia at goal attack and a midcourt of Liana Leota, Laura Langman and Joline Henry.
Katrina Grant started at goal defence in her 50th test for New Zealand, with Leana de Bruin at goal keep and skipper Casey Kopua on the bench.
If Taumaunu was hoping to make an early statement and build up enough of a lead to use her bench later in the game, the first quarter was a decided flop with a plucky Malawi team refusing to bend.
Australia had also been less than convincing their opener, a 63-36 win over Wales, while Malawi had started their campaign with a 71-50 win over Norther Ireland the previous day.
As the Jamaican team watched on from the grandstands - supposedly the Silver Ferns' toughest pool play opponent in Glasgow - New Zealand had to settle for a 14-13 lead at the first break, which saw plenty of discussion between Taumaunu and her shooters.
By halftime the best the Ferns could manage was a 25-all draw, and that was only possible after Tutaia landed a long penalty at her second attempt.
Despite a few tense moments in the final stages, the Silver Ferns were able to claim the win and can looking ahead to their match against Scotland at 10.30pm tonight (NZT).