'Good start' for Ferns, series not sealed yet
History suggests the Silver Ferns cannot read too much into yesterday's Constellation Cup-opening triumph against Australia as they strive to secure a drought-breaking series victory in Auckland on Thursday.
Delighted to leave Melbourne's Hisense Arena with a 54-52 win the Ferns were staying grounded as they flew home today, realising they surrendered a similar position of dominance last year after success in Perth was followed by losses in Adelaide and Melbourne.
Two home games - the series ends in Christchurch on Sunday - are hardly comforting as New Zealand holds few fears for the Australian given their players are familiar with hostile Kiwi atmospheres through the trans-Tasman league and previous tests, including a 2007 world championships-winning campaign.
New Zealand has not beaten Australia in a series since 2004 - the last time they won back-to-back tests was the following year and since then the sport's dominant nations had met 30 more times before another tense encounter played out before almost 10,000 generally muted fans.
"It was a good start," said coach Wai Taumaunu, who wisely refused to get carried away given there is invariably little between the rivals skill-wise - and on the scoreboard.
Taumaunu was pleased the squad's preparations achieved the desired outcome while injured captain Casey Williams watched from the bench but sounded a note of caution.
"We're delighted we executed what we said we were going to do but it's just a start. We and Australia look at each game and we grow and learn from it."
From a homework perspective, Australian coach Lisa Alexander has more problems to solve: Irene van Dyk and Maria Tutaia won the shootout with a 93 percent success rate compared to her quartet's conversion rate (79 percent); she also rejigged her defence on the run while the midcourt was not as influential as expected.
A second-year national coach like Taumaunu, Alexander probably erred by not introducing Bassett before the final term considering Australia's hero at last year's world championships almost singlehandedly erased the Ferns six-goal buffer by netting 15 attempts - the most prolific quarter by any shooter.
Alexander has been reluctant to start Bassett ahead of Cath Cox but there is no guarantee the New Zealand-born veteran will bring up the 100-cap milestone from the outset at Vector Arena.
"It really does depend on training form and if Caitlin is the best option, she'll start," Alexander said.
Reducing the error count and the continued development of a midcourt trio no longer blessed with Temepara George's expertise are Taumaunu's priority this week.
One positive was the composure the Ferns displayed, particularly when Bassett got on a roll as the clock wound down.
"We knew they were going to come out tougher and stronger in that fourth quarter, it was great we absorbed it and rose to the occasion," said stand-in captain Laura Langman.
"It felt controlled out there even though it may have looked different which is great because you don't always get that against Australia."
New wing attack Camilla Lees certainly held her nerve throughout her fourth cap - and first since 2009.
"I wasn't so nervous coming to the game but as soon as the lights went out and we had the fireworks and things I felt the pressure a bit," said Lees, who encountered Australia for the first time.
"As the game went on I really enjoyed it. I was trying to keep my cool in the last five minutes which seemed to take forever.
"It was a huge step up (from the trans-Tasman league) and I felt every mistake we made we were punished."
Lees had the dubious honour of marking up against the abrasive Mo'onia Gerrard and naturally the Australian did not keep her distance.
"There weren't many words but there were a few elbows," Lees laughed.
Meanwhile, there were no fresh fitness concerns although the knee issue that forced Williams' withdrawal yesterday morning will be monitored - Taumaunu said the star defender would not play on Thursday if there was a risk of the injury deteriorating.