Van Dyk compared to rugby great Wilkinson

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 17:11 05/06/2014

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Irene van Dyk has been likened to another professional sportsperson renowned for their single-minded pursuit of perfection and metronomic efficiency - recently-retired English rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson.

Less than a week after the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner ended his career by guiding Toulon to victory in France's Top 14 final, van Dyk, netball's most prolific and enduring shooter announced she was no longer available for the Silver Ferns.

Australian national coach Lisa Alexander was slightly taken aback by van Dyk's announcement, five days before the Silver Ferns squad to defend Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow in August was named.

However, the Diamonds' plans to win the Commonwealth gold for the first time since 2002  have not been unduly affected by the 145-cap New Zealand representative's decision to end her involvement.

"We plan for lots of different scenarios, and one of them was that she may retire," Alexander told Stuff.co.nz.

"I guess we've been managing that for the last couple of years with the introduction of Cat Latu."

Yet Alexander admitted it would be unusual not to see the former South African in the goal circle in Scotland, and at next year's world championships in Sydney.

"I just imagined Irene would hang on for a couple more years," she said.

"In any case I applaud her decision, it's most likely one of the hardest things she's ever had to do.

"From my point of view, she's made that decision based on the fact that she thinks that she can't contribute at the same level, which is completely understandable," said Alexander, who marvelled at the 41-year-old's work ethic and adaptability.

"Irene's ability to back up, keep improving and keep reinventing herself has been quite amazing.

"Every box is ticked in terms of high performance.

"Her conditioning .... she's always in terrific shape. And she always brings little changes to her game which we had to look at carefully on the DVD analysis every time.

"I think she'll be remembered as one of the greatest players ever, really. You couldn't say anything less about her."

Alexander drew a parallel with English first five-eighth Wilkinson, whose approach to goal kicking was notoriously obsessive.

"The person I think of in world sport that mirrors the kind of approach she has was Johnny Wilkinson. All that that practice, the kicking .... I've always admired what he's done and I know Irene has also put a lot of that work into her shooting.

"She doesn't take shortcuts there."

Alexander said combating van Dyk was always a team effort because the priority was blocking her supply lines although Australia was also blessed to have a succession of top quality defenders to exert pressure under the post.

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"Laura Geitz has done that very well. Before that we had Susan Furhmann and before that Liz Ellis.

"We've been very fortunate that we've had such strong goal keeps that have been able to make life difficult for Irene but she's taken the nod in a few games here and there," said Alexander, who now is now preparing for Latu and Maria Tutaia to spearhead New Zealand's attack.

- Stuff

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