No surprises here. Australia are talking tough.
After being upset in the first test on home soil, Australia's netballers are promising to hit the Silver Ferns with an all-out physical onslaught in a “desperate” attempt to save the three-match series in Auckland tonight.
The Diamonds are hurting. None of their 15-strong squad want the ignominy attached to being members of the first team to lose a series to New Zealand since 2004.
“We don't like losing series. There's no doubt about that,” Australian coach Lisa Alexander admitted.
To force a decider in Christchurch on Sunday, Australia feel they must rattle the Ferns. Beat them up a little.
“I call it dog-arse defence,” feisty Australian midcourter Mo'onia Gerrard said. “You'll see a lot of that on Thursday [tonight]. We need to be more aggressive on the ball.”
The Diamonds are renowned for their aggressive one-on-one defensive intensity - the odd sly elbow is common practice. But in the first-test loss in Melbourne, the world champions lacked their usual confrontational edge. They don't like being soft. Tonight's clash is personal.
“We want to make it tough for them. We are going to have a lot of intensity and desperation,” experienced shooter Natalie Medhurst said. “We are going to have to come out firing. As Australians we are known for our dogged defence."
From the outset last week, the Silver Ferns were allowed to move the ball smoothly through court. The inexperienced midcourt had few troubles; shooters Maria Tutaia and Irene van Dyk enjoyed a dream ride, missing just four of 54 attempts.
Even without inspirational captain Casey Williams, who is hopeful of returning from a knee injury, New Zealand's defensive pairing of Katrina Grant and Leana de Bruin applied the heat, forcing 14 misses from their opposites.
One thing is certain. There won't be a repeat of Australia's timid display. Brace for some niggle; some scrappy exchanges.
Veteran shooter Catherine Cox may be benched - Catlin Bassett is expected to start - but her 100th appearance only adds to the emotion for the Australians, who don't want to surrender the Constellation Cup for the first time.
“Particularly playing over here, with New Zealand being one up, they are going to have a lot of support,” Medhurst said.
This time, the Australian tactics won't blindside the Ferns. All week coach Waimarama Taumaunu has prepared her side for this ambush.
“We are expecting a pretty ferocious second test,” Taumaunu said.
The Ferns feel they overcame some serious demons last week. Their composure to hold on in the tense closing stages was a characteristic rarely seen from this outfit.
Now, they must back it up to record consecutive victories over Australia for the first time in seven years.
“We've taken a step forward,” Williams said. “The last three minutes of a match can be crucial. In the past we've been known to dip. We are making a concerted effort to make sure we finish off every quarter.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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