Silver Ferns luckless as Diamonds take Cup
HAMISH BIDWELL IN MELBOURNE
New Zealand conceded the Constellation Cup in frustrating fashion tonight, losing 52-47 to Australia at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena.
The effort was there, and generally, the execution too, but they were undone by external factors. Australia now have an unassailable 3-1 series lead, with one to play, meaning the Silver Ferns had to hand back a cup they won for the first time last year.
Not that many people will remember much of that.
Laura Geitz's gamesmanship, theatrics, even downright cheating, were the things that stood out clearest.
The Diamonds captain, and goal keep, might be Australian netball's golden girl but, watching through neutral eyes, there was nothing appealing about her first half performance.
Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu had gone with the anticipated option of starting Cathrine Latu at goal shoot and the dividends were immediately apparent. Where Geitz had been able to man-handle Irene van Dyk (or should that be woman-handle because this is netball?) she couldn't shift Latu.
So, faced with an immovable object, Geitz resorted to the sort of tactics you might have seen in the days before we had lifting in rugby lineouts or in the midst of a modern day ruck. She pushed, she grabbed, she climbed on Latu; whatever it took to subdue the Silver Ferns goal shoot.
And then she smiled angelically at the umpires or quietly chuckled, as another call went in her favour.
Most of them were impossible to fathom and, naturally, affected Latu's composure.
At one point in the second quarter, having been bowled by goal defence Bianca Chatfield, an upset Latu had to call a timeout and talk things over with her coaching staff. Such was the ridiculous nature of the decision-making, she just needed to call a halt to proceedings to make sure she hadn't gone mad or turned up at the wrong venue.
Her troubles seemed to inspire wing defence Joline Henry, in particular. Always someone who plays for keeps, Henry asserted herself with real vigor, picking up plenty of ball in the midcourt, as the Silver Ferns' zone defence caused Australia problems.
All the while, the Silver Ferns continued to be down. Two goals at quarter time, had become six by halftime and then it was 10, as the third quarter and the series slipped away.
New Zealand were playing more than enough netball, especially defensively, where Katrina Grant and Casey Kopua were following Henry's lead. But every time they seemed on the verge of mounting a serious comeback, the umpires intervened.
It's all very well to have neutral umpires, but when they come from far off places, where the netball is of a debatable standard, then they're neither use nor ornament. South Africa's Annie Kloppers and Terrence Peart from Jamaica are no doubt fine and fair people, but they only seemed to be whistling the game one way.
That's inevitable in international netball, where studies show the home side always get the rub of the green.
You don't want to cheerlead, you don't want to make excuses, you don't want to insult people's intelligence. But what happened last night wasn't fair dinkum and spoilt a decent clash between two pretty even teams.
New Zealand were embarrassing in their 58-50 third test loss, on Friday. But they played with purpose and passion last night and deserved better than what they got.
You can't win them all, but you should be given a fair opportunity to do so.
- © Fairfax NZ News