Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu's biggest selection punt for the year has now become her biggest worry after Bailey Mes did nothing to win over the sceptics in her international debut last night.
New Zealand opened their Quad Series campaign with a predictable thrashing of world No 6 South Africa in Adelaide. However, the Ferns' midcourt options have been further hit, with 23-year-old Mes not able to make the most of her first opportunity in the 63-27 victory.
The 1.86m converted shooter played just one quarter for the Northern Mystics in this year's trans-Tasman league and was a huge surprise in Taumaunu's first squad of the year, maintaining her place for this series after not getting on court during the three Constellation Cup tests against Australia.
Last night she became the 152nd Silver Fern, starting the match at wing attack, but looked nervous and struggled to make an impact against an opposition which lacked pace and variety.
Having being won over by Mes' athletic ability at recent national trials, Taumaunu was clearly unimpressed with her debutante's performance.
“She got her first test out of the way, it was satisfactory, that's about as good as it got,” Taumaunu said.
“Just her quick change of pace in terms of getting free, she looked a bit passive today and that's not what she's looked at practice. So it's nervousness, first time in the black dress, all of those things have to be taken into account.”
Taumaunu said she had a quick chat with Mes after she was benched and believed the youngster would agree with her assessment.
The New Zealand coach assured there would be a next time for her, though was unsure whether that would come as soon as Wednesday in the Ferns' next match against England.
“We'll see, I haven't made that call yet. I think she probably will at some point, but I haven't decided about those lines yet,” Taumaunu said, adding that she was very pleased with what Kayla Cullen and Laura Langman produced in the second half at centre and wing attack respectively.
The rest of the Ferns' performance was put in Taumaunu's good books, as they achieved everything they wanted in trying some new space marking on defence and getting captain Casey Williams back on court after a 15-month international layoff due to a knee injury.
Taumaunu played two separate lineups, making a host of changes at halftime.
With Irene van Dyk left on the bench to start, Cathrine Latu wore the goal shoot bib and shot 18 from 20, though turned the ball over six times, while Maria Tutaia sunk 10 from 15.
“I thought the South African defenders, particularly in the first half, were very combative and did a good job on us, so credit to them in terms of our error rate,” Taumaunu said.
The Ferns struggled to find their rhythm at times against a stop-start opposition.
Both goal keeps, Katrina Grant and Vanes-Mari du Toit, managed to pick up four intercepts in the first stanza and the Ferns went to the break up 14-9.
New Zealand then began to ease out and went to halftime ahead 28-14.
Taumaunu then rung the changes, with van Dyk on and Anna Thompson (7/13) also injected at goal attack, while Williams went on at goal defence for Leana de Bruin.
The Proteas also made two changes at the long break, though one of the new players, Lindie Lombard, lasted less than two minutes before being forced off with a leg injury.
The Ferns went on a four-goal run to start the third quarter and Van Dyk went a perfect 16 from 16 for the stanza as the Ferns flexed their muscle by winning it 19-7.
As the South Africans began to tire, the Ferns kept the foot on the pedal, with van Dyk continuing at 100 per cent to finish with 28 from 28, one better than South Africa's score.
Proteas goal shoot Chrisna Bootha went well with 19 from 24 before being subbed in the final quarter, while goal attack Maryka Holtzhausen was restricted to only four from five.
The Ferns now move their attention to England, who they face in Newcastle.
England yesterday gave the Australian Diamonds a decent run in the first half of their clash in Adelaide before being dealt to 64-40.
Silver Ferns 63 (14-14-19-16)
South Africa 27 (9-5-7-6)
- Fairfax Media