Casey Williams workload must be managed
Silver Ferns defensive stalwart Casey Williams is in need of protection. Chris Barclay reports.
Casey Williams may be a leader in the Richie McCaw mould but the talismanic Silver Ferns defender mirrors All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter as she seeks to prolong her illustrious netball career to achieve an elusive goal.
New Zealand rugby is coming to terms with the fact Carter must be carefully managed for the duration of his test career and as Williams targets the defence of New Zealand's Commonwealth Games gold medal at Glasgow in 2014 and the world championships in Sydney the following year it is apparent she will also require nurturing.
Williams could have played Sunday's Constellation Cup opening test against Australia at a pinch despite aggravating an already fragile knee during the squad's final training session in Melbourne but with more significant assignments looming, management decided to rest the 64-test veteran.
The Ferns opening clash of a hectic schedule - a Quad Series follows the annual trans-Tasman battle - was meant to showcase New Zealand's adaptation to life without retired midcourter Temepara George and expectant mother Joline Henry.
That transition made a promising start as Camilla Lees and Anna Harrison were not out of place alongside Laura Langman. Inadvertently the Ferns' 54-52 victory also provided an insight into Wai Taumaunu's contingencies for when Williams is unavailable.
Individually Katrina Grant and Leana de Bruin are seasoned internationals although they had not played in tandem for a full game until successfully combating Australia's shooting lineup at Hisense Arena.
South African-born de Bruin, who made her 58th appearance for her adopted county and 92nd overall, usually rotates with Grant and Harrison in the circle and was encouraged by her first extended run alongside the Central Pulse goal keep.
“There's things we still want to work on but we're quite proud of our efforts, we haven't had that much court time together,” said de Bruin, who also had to reacquaint herself with the demands of playing goal defence.
Harrison's shift to wing defence was also a success as her height and wingspan made life difficult for Kimberlee Green.
Although Williams' withdrawal on game day was untimely the fact she missed last year's three Constellation Cup tests allowed the Ferns to take her absence in their stride.
“We can do stuff without her but she's definitely a big loss, especially for me I've got that connection at the Magic,” de Bruin said.
“Just getting my head around goal defence again ... some days I think ‘she can have that bib back'.”
That may not eventuate in Auckland on Thursday with Williams declaring she would not play if it would be detrimental to her team-mates chances of wrapping up their first series win against Australia since 2004 before both sides head to Christchurch for Sunday's finale.
Grant echoed de Bruin's sentiments about their combination and felt their impact meant Williams would not have to be reintroduced until she was ready.
“It was nice to see we can win without her so hopefully it doesn't put too much pressure on her and the coaches to force anything,” she said.
Grant and de Bruin were most satisfied with curbing the impact Natalie Medhurst and alternative goal attack Erin Bell although Caitlin Bassett's replacement of veteran Cath Cox in the final quarter was problematic.
Williams said Bassett's impressive 15-goal cameo was her only concern as an observer.
“She's a bit more mobile, a bit stronger in her hold and is better now at knowing the space where she wants the ball.
"It took us a little bit long to adapt to that,” she said.