Excited Fast5 Ferns have their dancing shoes on

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
Fast5 Ferns
PETER MEECHAM/FAIRFAX NZ
The Fast5 Ferns celebrate their victory in the Fast5 World Series.

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It was tight. It was thrilling. It had New Zealand's top netballers performing Gangnam Style.

What more could you ask for from the birth of Fast5 netball?

New Zealand were crowned the inaugural Fast5 World Series champions last night after downing England 23-21 in a pulsating final at Auckland's Vector Arena.

It was a match that showed the best of the sport's newest, shortest format after what had been an entertaining six-nation tournament.

The reborn version of FastNet, Fast5 incorporates double points ‘powerplays', sides without wing attackers or defenders, and three-point scoring options.

For the majority of the second half, it appeared as if an English victory would be built on a clever possession game in the third quarter, when the ‘Fast Ferns' took their double points ‘powerplay'.

Thanks to England's astute control of the ball, New Zealand scored only six points in that six-minute period.

But in a tight final quarter, which saw only three points scored, all by New Zealand, the home side claimed the title and finished the tournament unbeaten.

New Zealander shooter Maria Tutaia sealed the win with just 10 seconds remaining, although English opposite Rachel Dunn could have stolen it at the death with a three-pointer attempt that went agonisingly close.

"Fundamentally, that's always a possibility with the rules the way they are," New Zealand coach Waimarama Taumaunu said of the tight, possession-dominated encounter.

"Both England and us have tried to play within the spirit of the game rather than try and hold possession.

"[But] I think when it comes down to gold medals, and finals, then both of us tended to revert to what we knew was always available."

In an entertaining twist pre-game, the Fast Ferns entered the arena performing a well-rehearsed version of the Gangnam Style dance routine.

The English responded, performing their own version of the dance made famous by Korean pop star Psy.

Cynics could argue there was no place for such behaviour in a final of an international tournament, but the festive atmosphere in Vector Arena, and the energetic style of Fast5, befitted such a performance.

"Yes it was a final but we really wanted to entertain the crowd," Tutaia said. "We wanted to show that it was all about having a good time and embracing what is happening out there on court."

England, who beat New Zealand in the final of the FastNet competition last year, had started strongly, with shooters Dunn and Jo Harten converting all of their early opportunities.

England took their ‘powerplay' in the second quarter, but struggled to make the most of it.

The Fast Ferns were electric on defence, with livewire skipper Laura Langman seemingly in the middle of everything, before the England scored 10 points late in the quarter to lead 19-14 at halftime.

New Zealand took their ‘powerplay' after the break, but had even less luck than England when trying to get the most out of it.

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The English were content to dominate possession, and, while not scoring, they limited the Fast Ferns' ability to move down the court.

Earlier, Malawi defeated Australia 33-30 to claim fifth place in the tournament, while South Africa beat Jamaica 38-34 in the playoff for third.

While crowd numbers were not overwhelming on any of the tournament's three days, international officials will have to be pleased with the excitment factor generated by the sport's newest form.

With upsets by minnows Malawi over Australia, twice, and England, Fast5, with its revised rules, has the ability to level the international playing field.

Malawi were the undeniable tournament darlings, capturing the crowd's imagination with their passionate, never-say-die style of play.

"It's absolutely amazing," Tutaia said of Malawi's contribution to the tournament.

"Those are the countries that are really trying to dig in a spot in the Fast5, and I just hope that in seven-a-side netball they really start to grow as well.

"We really want to be like rugby, to be a worldwide, well-known sport."

After the first tournament of the game's newest form, New Zealand will also host Fast5 tournaments in 2013 and 2014.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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