New approach for Ferns coach

01:43, Jan 31 2009

The voice down the phone line belies the image conjured up when thinking of Waimarama Taumaunu.

There will be old team-mates and new pupils who can confirm one of the country's greatest defenders is no shrinking violet.

The former Silver Ferns captain has been feared and respected both on and off the court since the 1980s.

Now she is returning to her netballing roots in Christchurch to take up her latest challenge as assistant to Ferns coach Ruth Aitken, and with it a test match against Australia next Wednesday.

Less than a week out from the trans-Tasman clash, Taumaunu is at ease and talks fondly about her "old stamping ground".

"I loved my time in Canterbury," she said. "I'm definitely going to visit a few friends before it's down to business."


Some believe she has mellowed since her playing days just don't sit on the same couch as Taumaunu when the former Ferns defender is nothing more than a spectator.

"My husband can clear the living room when he's watching a rugby test," she said.

"I can do the same watching a netball game."

From the courtside bench, however, the persona changes as her coaching brain shifts gear.

"I enjoy spectating a game because I'm reasonably expressive," she said.

"But when I'm coaching I'm less so because I'm more focused and thinking about what's happening."

Her return to Christchurch this week marks a full circle for Taumaunu.

Today she dreams of getting the best performance out of the players in the Ferns stable. In her younger netballing days in Christchurch, the dreams were more simple.

When Taumaunu first turned out for the Riccarton High School team at Hagley courts in the heart of the city, she had no lofty ambitions of representing her country the youngster just wanted to play in the rain.

"Back then I was just waiting until I got to the age when I could play netball in the rain," she said with a laugh. "I remember being 10 or 11 and wanting to be 13 so I could play in the rain. That's all I wanted."

The Waipawa-born netballer, who moved to Christchurch as an eight-year-old, was still wearing red-and-black colours when she got the call-up to the national team in 1981 as a 19-year-old.

Much of her senior career was played in Wellington, when the qualified teacher could not find a job in Christchurch, prompting a move north in 1984.

Taumaunu, who was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, earned 68 test caps and experienced the highs of a world championship victory (1987) and the lows of two championship finals defeats at the hands of Australia - the one-goal loss in Sydney in 1991 a heart-breaking end to her international career.

It was Taumaunu's gracious speech after that 53-52 defeat in a game that many described as one of the greatest in the modern era that drove home the respect held for the Kiwi captain.

When she speaks these days, people still listen.

The latest bunch of Ferns defenders have their ears flapping as they absorb the gems from their new assistant coach.

It is her second stint as assistant, having helped Yvonne Willering in 1998.

At the end of that year she was lost to New Zealand for five years when she headed to England to take up a largely administrative role as the sport's new performance director.

It was a tough decision for Taumaunu and her husband George to leave family and friends behind.

But with their two young children not yet at school age and a hankering to do "something of an OE" an experience which she was unable to do during her playing days the job opportunity was too good to turn down.

As performance director, Taumaunu worked more with coaches but got a hands-on role when she was assistant coach for England at the 2003 world championships.

Not long after, she and her family returned home, where coaching positions with the Capital Shakers opened up.

Taumaunu was head coach of the Wellington franchise in the final year of the National Bank Cup but when the new trans-Tasman league was launched and the job as head coach went full time, she stepped down.

Her job as a performance specialist at the States Services Commission in the capital was something Taumaunu was not ready to relinquish.

But the desire to coach was still there. "I have really missed it."

Influenced by coaches including Lois Muir and a number of "great women in Christchurch", coaching had been a natural progression from Taumaunu's playing days.

"I guess my approach to netball has always been analytical, so coaching felt like a good fit," she said.

"It didn't occur to me not to coach. I still wanted to be involved in the game."

The door was opened when called into the Ferns camp in their build-up to last year's world championship and the familiar taste was something she savoured.

When the assistant job became available, Taumaunu approached Netball New Zealand to see if she could take on the position part-time.

She was given the nod in May for a contract which lasts through until the end of the year.

She has had no regrets about returning to the elite fray.

"There's a lot of talent out there and being involved with that is exciting," Taumaunu said.

FACT FILE: Waimarama Taumaunu. Silver Ferns assistant coach. Born: October 18, 1962. Birth place: Waipawa. Playing career: Silver Ferns 1981-1991 (captain 1989-91). Positions: GD, GK, WD. World championships: 1983 in Singapore (2nd), 1987 in Scotland (1st), 1991 in Australia (2nd).  


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