Nine days after surrendering the Quad Series trophy in a bitter 10-goal loss to rivals New Zealand, the Australian Diamonds reunited for their first court session after well-earned down-time.

Personal reflections and coaching dissections were brought forward in individual player reviews. The most surprising outcome was the demotion of vice captain Madi Robinson from the team that will seek revenge against the Kiwis in the upcoming four-match Constellation Cup.

Photo: Simon Leonard

While plans to exchange goal attacks between series’ were well-laid, the substitution of Kate Moloney and Caitlin Nevins for the popular lynchpin wing attack was based on a complex decision-making process.

“If you look at form over the whole year, Madi and Rav (Kim Ravaillion) failed to fire as a combination with Collingwood”, said Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander.

“We were hoping to see them firing with us – once the Australia team is together, we can address some of those issues from the club level. But instead, what happened is that we were really patchy. It seems on the surface it’s a harsh call on Madi, because it wasn’t just her out there.

“They all clearly under performed their roles, especially the attack end, who wasted nine centre passes (against New Zealand in the final test). You don’t want to give the Kiwis that kind of leg up, particularly after their loss to England, and that first quarter was disastrous.”

Photo: Simon Leonard

The choice to leave stars Robinson, Caitlin Bassett and Nat Medhurst at home for the January 2017 Quad Series in South Africa and England raised eyebrows. It was a calculated opportunity for players like Nevins and Ravaillion to solidify a combination with favoured goal attack Gretel Tippett and reserve goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites, while allowing respite for the trio of key team members.

Some pundits described this omission as specifically detrimental to Robinson. Alexander feels otherwise.

“Liz Watson also missed that tour and Madi had a significant amount of time with Gretel in the October 2016 Constellation Cup. We expect our players to be highly adaptable and flexible and to enhance the strengths of our shooters. One area for Madi is that her body needs to be right, coming back from a knee injury. We make decisions based on lots of areas.”

Indeed, the lack of connection between the attacking end, reduced access to circle edge and the inability to manipulate and penetrate the zone defence of the Silver Ferns was the Diamonds’ undoing. The first quarter of the Quad Series decider lost Australia the match.

Tippett performed well at times throughout the Series, but Tegan Philip might be lucky to have a graciously scheduled exit from the team, as she had limited minutes and failed to fire in the front-line formula.

While those two goal attacks are rested, making way for Susan Pettitt and Steph Wood, some commentators are wondering if perhaps marquee midcourters other than Robinson have been lucky to retain their spot. It’s obvious from the national coach’s comments that no player has been given an unconditional pass mark.

“I sat with Kim (Ravaillion) today and chatted with her. The very lofty standards she set as a youngster have plateaued a bit. I reminded her about things she did in January which were so important, especially at the end of the English game – her calm approach, the double play and fast movement. We need that back – it’s about confidence as much as anything. There has been reticence on her part, she’s got to take her game to another level, particularly with the changes happening around her.“

It wasn’t just the veteran duo of Robinson and Ravaillion that were under scrutiny by the coaching team. Some spectacular work from Gabi Simpson failed to make up for some deficiencies in her attacking game.

“Gabi got some good ball for us, but gave it straight back and it completely nullified the gains. We’ll be working on that with her throughout training in the next few weeks.”

Photo: Simon Leonard

Meanwhile, Liz Watson earned cautious praise from Alexander.

“At this stage, I would say Liz is doing the things that I expect of an international wing attack, she made a couple of errors against South Africa, but managed to get ball back. I was a midcourter myself (and) our job, like I always tell the midcourt players, is to not throw the ball away and to make the shooters look good.

“These days, you also have to get ball back on defence. That’s everyone from the goal shooter all the way down the court. We lost the pickups against New Zealand, which is unforgivable. You have to be on even keel or better if you’re going to have a chance of winning these matches.”

Part of the mission to regain parity in the scramble for loose ball instigated the inclusion of Moloney for the first time in a touring senior test side, with flexibility to play centre, wing defence and wing attack.

In the past, Alexander has also praised Caitlin Nevins for her dynamic play against domestic sides from New Zealand, with specific skills she hopes to see executed across the Constellation Cup.

“We were missing that cut and drive and penetration to circle edge from the wing attack. Caitlin’s a little bit like Laura von Bertouch (was) – to cut and drive, to take on and draw the defense, and play second phase and third phase equally well.”

There will also be benefit in the Fast5 experience of players such as Nevins, Moloney, Pettitt and Bruce, with faster adaptability in hitting the court after substitution.

“I think that quick swaps appeared more in the ANZ Premiership (ANZP) to do with tactics and with load management of players this year. The Kiwis have used that to their advantage in the ANZP, but also it’s in the international rules, which are very different to the tactical timeouts in Suncorp Super Netball.

“The New Zealanders change players to change momentum and they did that quite tactically in the Quad Series. We used it a little bit, but we didn’t overdo it. We’re going to focus on how to manage momentum shifts within each 15 minutes heading into the Constellation Cup.”

With this important series against the Silver Ferns a benchmark and potential source of confidence and bragging rights heading into the Commonwealth Games in April next year, it’s more important than ever that each player in the wider squad knows their role, is hitting their peak and is constantly improving and ready to step up if required.

Photo: Simon Leonard

No-one will know that more than Madi Robinson, who has fought back into the squad multiple times after demotion or serious injury, and now faces a new battle.

“We don’t change things just for the sake of it. It’s a very deliberate strategy around selection. It’s not just gut instinct. It’s a complex process, based on many factors including recent history in the national league and internationals, plus what we see right now, their current form.

“Everyone’s accountable, including me. We are very serious about performance. People need to perform at their absolute best, and they know we have to keep improving. We can’t rest and rely on the past.

“Madi will take it as hard medicine and we’ll continue to work on those specific areas with her. We’re happy with the changes – obviously not happy for Madi personally – but she’s been a true professional in how she’s taken it and I expect nothing less from her especially as part of the leadership group.”

Having shown her champion colours in the past, you can be sure that Robinson will be doing her utmost to be back in the green and gold very soon.

 

2017 Australian Diamonds Constellation Cup squad:
Caitlin Bassett (captain), April Brandley, Courtney Bruce, Emily Mannix, Kate Moloney, Caitlyn Nevins, Susan Pettitt, Kim Ravaillion, Gabi Simpson, Caitlin Thwaites, Liz Watson, Jo Weston, Stephanie Wood.

 

 

Twitter: @NetballDrewski