Samoa tests frustrating for Vagana

BY CATHY WALSHE
Last updated 01:05 09/08/2010

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Test matches against New Zealand are an exercise in frustration for Samoan netball coach and former Silver Fern Linda Vagana.

Battling limited resources, both financially and with her playing roster, Vagana cobbles together the best side she can from an eclectic mix of Australia, New Zealand and Samoa-based players.

She faces daunting constraints, player availability and limited build-up time adding to the pressure of crafting a side able to contest a full 60 minutes against one of the game's toughest opponents.

On Saturday, in a one-off test against New Zealand as they prepare to defend their Commonwealth Games title later this year, the Samoans just couldn't compete, the Silver Ferns rampaging to a 92-28 win at Porirua's Te Rauparaha Arena.

Samoa has played New Zealand only four times in the past 15 years, with Saturday's 64-goal winning margin the biggest. The last time the two sides met was at the world championship in Jamaica in 2003 - when Vagana took the court for Samoa - and the New Zealanders cruised to a 53-goal win.

Vagana's frustrations on-court are equalled by those off-court, yet the 61-test veteran for New Zealand found plenty of positives to take out of Saturday's game.

"It was frustrating to see we could make things work - we had little patches of it and then we just kind of settled back to the style New Zealand was putting up against us. We had tactics that we were supposed to do out there, but we didn't quite execute them as well as we wanted to."

With a huge height mismatch right across court, Samoa need to play a short, sharp netball and avoid taking on the Silver Ferns with an aerial game.

They couldn't manage it, the New Zealand speed through court proving insurmountable on attack, while a series of rangy, fast-moving defenders starved the Samoan shooters of ball.

Matching Vagana's frustrations on court were the difficulties of getting players to commit to Samoa at an international level.

Such a decision would make them ineligible to take the court for New Zealand without a lengthy stand down, and could also jeopardise their hopes of a trans-Tasman league contract, with the ANZ Championship rules allowing for only one overseas player per franchise.

Vagana was philosophical: "Ideally we'd like to have the best of the all the players that are available for us, but the girls also need to make decisions on their whole future, if they come across and represent another country.

"That can be really frustrating."

Despite Saturday's walloping, Vagana is hopeful her team will still prove competitive at the Commonwealth Games, even with a schedule which begins with Australia before taking on Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Malawi.

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A narrow five-goal loss to Fiji at the Pacific Series in June, coupled with two competitive matche - albeit unsuccessful - matches against South Africa in Apia in July make her optimistic.

"This has been a really good finish off to see where we're at and what we need to work on. My expectations are definitely raised."

- NZPA

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