In a fascinating showdown of perennial rivals, the dominant opening ten minutes from New Zealand ensured the visiting Australians never got on the front foot. The at-times frantic nature of the first half was a salute to a tight Kiwi zone which pulled the Diamonds out of their typical slick structures.

The selection of Bailey Mes at goal attack, while a surprise to some, was a revelation, as she not only shot at 94% but was exceptional on defense and in transitional play, helping set up glory for the new backline combination of Sinclair, Grant, and Jury, and deliver the ball to her goaling partner. In a very rare sight, 23 of the available players took the court – while Australia were forced to search for a spark, the home side could relax give experience to their junior bench.

With a 10-goal win, the Silver Ferns made amends for the earlier loss to England and raised the Quad Series trophy for the first time.

 

Starting lineups

New Zealand
GS – Te Paea Selby-Rickit
GA – Bailey Mes
WA – Gina Crampton
C – Shannon Francois
WD – Sam Sinclair
GD – Katrina Grant
GK – Kelly Jury
Bench – Maia Wilson, Whitney Souness, Phoenix Karaka, Jane Watson, Monica Falkner
Coach – Janine Southby

Australia
GS – Caitlin Bassett
GA – Gretel Tippett
WA – Madison Robinson
C – Kim Ravaillion
WD – Gabi Simpson
GD – April Brandley
GK – Courtney Bruce
Bench – Caitlin Thwaites, Tegan Philip, Elizabeth Watson, Joanna Weston, Emily Mannix
Coach – Lisa Alexander

Umpires – Jackie Mizon, Theresa Prince, Yu Bee Ling (reserve)

 

The match began with a couple of mild surprises, firstly the selection of a new-look Kiwi shooting circle, perhaps accommodating the lesser fitness of Te Paea Selby-Rickit, and then the sight of captain Katrina Grant wiping the court with a towel before the first centre pass.

Meanwhile, it was no surprise at all to local fans that Caitlin Bassett missed her first shot under pressure from rookie Kelly Jury’s amazing stretch, and that Bailey Mes at goal attack made her first intercept off Ravaillion look easy. In fact, defensive intent was palpable from the whole Silver Ferns outfit, with all of the backline threatening in the midcourt zone. They strolled out 8-2 and stamped an ominous tone on proceedings.

Simpson had a questionable start, outclassing Gina Crampton often by covering her drive, but contacting too easily on the centre pass, and throwing a premature pass to Robinson who was still making her preliminary moves. Bruce was off the pace until an umpiring miss of contact, tapping the ball from her opponent’s hands, gave her a bolt of energy.

There followed some minutes of anxiety and disorganisation all over the court from both younger and more experienced players, in almost a random game – disastrous offload from Simpson, late move from Sinclair, tip from Jury, wayward pass from Tippett. The mainstay was Selby-Rickit’s lovely balance, hitting nine from ten in only eight minutes.

The New Zealand attack were embarrassing Australia, the score ballooning to 12-4, while the visitors’ attack was in disarray.  Focus was on delivering to Bassett early, but she was not yet finding a way around the equally-tall Jury. The Diamonds needed to rather craft the ball closer to the circle, but when the goal-third zone pushed Ravaillion and Robinson wide, there was no punch through the space left in the middle.

April Brandley had little answer for the through-court craft and athleticism of Mes, while Sam Sinclair’s timing was massively improved from the first two tests, using sizzling footspeed to deflect and intercept balls at chest height rather than in the air.

Ravaillion was being directed out of position and was not getting access to middle channel or circle edge, her drives continually being blocked. Unobserved contact off the ball throughout the match, under the gaze of foreign umpires, was through the roof, adding to the feeling of chaos and carnage. The New Zealand midcourters were the group to rally, stinging their fancied opponents, allowing the home side to lead 18-10 after fifteen minutes.

Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander brought Liz Watson to centre for the second stanza, looking for a reprisal of her good form against South Africa earlier in the week. The very first play saw her assist her team in transition perfectly to the captain at the back, but then Tippett misjudged the second phase pass to her, and the Silver Ferns captilised.

Watson then got a pickup off Bruce’s tip, and the Aussies seemed to steady. Decision-making was cooler for the green and gold, clawing back to a six-goal margin. Still, progress was never easy, as Jury’s tips were spectacular and her height was an asset, blocking the normally-easy vision to Caitlin Bassett.

Watson was proving the difference for Australia, steady and able to see the right option in attack. Her tight combination with Robinson from seasons past with the Vixens was visible at times, allowing the wing attack to develop rhythm.

With space ably confused by both wing defenses, it was New Zealand that reaped more rewards, as Mes came up with another heroic intecept, crossing the entire zone to the space behind Crampton. Down court from her, Bruce was managing the tip from behind over Selby-Rickit repeatedly, and more often than not it was seen as allowable contest rather than contact. It seemed strange to momentarily see an open neat front-cut by Tippett, given how tough it was to get a first option pass away in this match. New Zealand led 24-18 after eight minutes.

The Australians seemed to be giving themselves less than three seconds. At one end of the court this was due to the umpiring of Theresa Prince, which affected both teams equally, and at the other end due to erosion of options and confidence, as the Diamonds were still forced into an unbalanced court by the need to keep offering for every ball.

The rarely-seen straight-line connection of Robison and Bassett was the answer but so tough to create. Meanwhile their backline did perform well to contain some of the powerful drives and core strength of Mes and the calm front movement of Selby-Rickit. While the teams kept parity, it was a chaotic display from the world number one, compared to well-connected teamwork from the locals. New Zealand kept their lead 31-24 into the half time break.

Still searching for answers, Australia added Philip to goal attack, moving Watson to wing attack, and bringing Ravaillion back to centre. It was nice to see early that Australia moved the zone wide, with Philip driving through the middle.

With the Kiwi circle defenders intent on Bassett, Philip was gaining confidence on her front cuts, connecting with Ravaillion. Indeed the Aussies were more tenacious in scrapping for ball, chalking up defensive gains but moments later being undone by rushed passing decisions in transition. Sinclair continued to be a nuisance, with small tips either off Australian defense or called wrongly by umpire Prince, keeping the team in black ahead without too much fuss.

In response to a mild injury, Crampton called a timeout to have treatment on the bench, replaced by Whitney Souness for only a few minutes. Australia countered with a switch at shooter, Caitlin Thwaites entering for the captain. It certainly was the right moment to shake things up for the Diamonds, having made no inroads into the 30-39 scoreline but still having over 20 minutes to fight back.

Still, a lack of execution of Aussie tactics to penetrate the Kiwi defense style allowed Katrina Grant to claim ball well before the circle. Umpire Teresa Prince called another in a sequence of very short held-ball calls, in this case ruining Philip’s shot. That, combined with the allowance of curiously short marking over the shot from Jury, went some way to explain how only 45 goals were scored at her end, as opposed to the 59 goals under umpire Mizon’s whistle. The tide of Silver Fern goals kept slowly rising, and they hit the final break ahead 44-33.

With retention of the Quad Series title in the balance, coach Alexander gave Emily Mannix her first 15 minutes for Australia in goal keeper, and put Tippett on in her Diamonds debutant position of wing attack, with the steady strength of Watson at centre. The debutant showed few signs of jitters, covering front space switches well and collecting a rebound, perhaps benefiting from flagging energy of Selby-Rickit.

Brandley showed urgency and leadership as the senior player in defense for the Diamonds, trying to play the ball on quickly from penalties. Francois was given a soft caution for contact, out of proportion to the constant deliberate infringement of all the circle defenders.

Kiwi captain Katrina Grant was noticeably lucky to escape sanctions for her arms being wrapped around or held in front of opponents, as moments later Francois and Grant both deliberately pushed Tipppett and Francois stood on a warning. It was 49-39 to the Silver Ferns after six minutes.

In yet more changes, Robinson came back to wing attack and Weston got seven minutes at goal defense for the Diamonds. For the Silver Ferns, Karaka got some time against Robinson at wing defense. While Australia had kept almost even for 50 minutes, there was still too much pressure and intensity from New Zealand to allow any reduction of the deficit.

Australia could rarely use the first option and kept reconsidering their passes, while the Kiwis operated well to neutralise space in the through-court play, rewarded by excellent moves and accuracy from Selby-Rickit. It was 52-43 heading into the last four minutes as the Kiwi shooter made way for strong young replacement Maia Wilson, and Souness came on for Francois. It was a consistent and tightly-organised team structure for New Zealand that brought them victory as they powered on to win by ten goals.

 

New Zealand 57 def Australia 47
Player of the match –
Kelly Jury (Silver Ferns)

 

New Zealand
Selby-Ricktt 35/41 85%
Mes 17/18 94%
Wilson 5/5 100%
57/64 89%

Australian Diamonds
Bassett 22/24 92%
Tippett 4/5 80%
Thwaites 10/11 91%
Philip 11/12 92%
47/52 90%

 

Spotlight on defence

New Zealand
Francois – goal assists 15, intercepts 1, deflections 2, penalties 9
Grant – intercepts 3, deflections 4, penalties 12
Jury – intercepts 1, deflections 3, penalties 19

Australia
Simpson – intercepts 1, deflections 4, penalties 9
Brandley – intercepts 2, deflections 2, penalties 12
Bruce – intercepts 2, deflections 5, penalties 18

 

What they said

Janine Southby

On the strong start from the Silver Ferns
“We had to keep focusing on each play as it game. The fact that we got off to a strong start laid the foundation – we’ve been guilt of doing patches of things well, but today we really pushed through. They’ve come out in emphatic style and said ‘look at us’, because a lot of people had written us off.”

“We’re looking at the end goal, and we need to look at all of our options. Maria not being here wasn’t ideal because on and off the court she’s a great leader, but it gave us an opportunity to look at the options. Te Paea showed us she’s confident and strong under the post, and Bailey (Mes) did so much work on attack and particularly on defense. To have her pick up three intercepts like that was fantastic.”

On firing up the team to get a passionate zone defense back
“The girls have been prepared to work hard, for the full sixty minutes. I don’t have to fire them up much, they want it – they weren’t happy the other night. It hurts. You question things, and sometimes the goal comes out of something like that. The big thing for us is that this is not a one-off, that it’s building for us to be winning in Comm. Games and 2019 World Cup. We know what we want to achieve and we know we’ve still got a lot of work to get there.”

On what it is for new Silver Ferns to really experience the Australian style
We had girls out there starting for the first time (against Australia). We talk about it – you can never replace the actual doing. Kelly, first start against Australia, she was outstanding, and we know there’s more in the tank too. We have belief, but it’s just the start. Next week we’ve got a new group coming in. We talk about it, and the belief can be wavering until there is the evidence. I think now that they can be rock solid. They’re establishing their understanding, and they’re prepared to do the hard work. They’ve got this growth mindset of trying to push each other – it’s exciting!  You know, you’ve got to enjoy the celebration, the win over (Aussie by ten goals) which we don’t do very often, we have to enjoy it.”

On whether there are secrets to the team confidence to be harmonious and beat Australia
People come prepared to understand each other and be the best they can be. With the girls, you can only own the moments you can control. We’ve got a really good group of people, and that’s the start of it. They’ve got this growth mindset and a good idea of where we want to be. The work that’s done by Netball New Zealand behind scenes with the new competition, which people have been writing off… I just think …. Kudos (to Netball New Zealand) in that space. Our product is really exciting and worthy – people need to take a look at it… enjoy it!”

 

Katrina Grant

On the chaos on court
“I think we learnt from the game against England about loose balls, going for everything, and having each other’s backs. Tonight, it looked chaotic because instead of maybe one black dress going for it, there were three. We all were trying to attack ball and tonight was the night we wanted to put it all together. Everyone stood up and paid attention to what had been said over the last couple of days. It’s taken us time, but today it came together seamlessly … in new combinations.”

On the newer combination with Kelly Jury
It’s nice to have someone of Bassett’s height. Kelly’s young and has made so much progress. She knows what her job is, and she’s been listening so much in the past week or so. She’s rolled her ankle but hasn’t let that stop her, she’s been saying “let me out there!”, and that hunger lifts everybody else as well! Kelly and I are totally different players which works in our favour. Kel goes for the aerial ball, and a short and tall player can work well together”

 

Lisa Alexander

On her team’s ability to always come back
Even in the last quarter I had confidence in asking the players to just chip away, which I asked them to do. I think the game was a tennis match, and the Silver Ferns were hesitant at times, but we just didn’t use it. We got plenty of ball, we just didn’t use it.

“It’s disappointing, we’ve banged on it for the last few days, that last quarter against South Africa when we should have pushed ahead – that’s what we’ve been been practising, and that’s why it’s disappointing.

On the very well executed zone from New Zealand despite good foresight
Yes! We always prepare for the zone, it’s just that the Silver Ferns did it so much more effectively tonight. You wouldn’t expect them to play like against England. It’s who takes that ascendancy psychologically in that first quarter – we played into their hands. We know we have strategies against the zone and we didn’t do it. I can’t explain it any other way.”

On the difference in the midcourt athleticism between Watson and Ravaillion
“At the end of the day, Kim (Ravaillion) is the more experienced player. We would’ve expected her to step up but unfortunately she did just didn’t have the drive, and Lizzy (Waston) did a sensational job tonight. She made a few errors, but in general she was very strong – she took the hits well and got on with it, drove well to circle edge, created some space, and did the basics well. She has been working really hard on her drive and I’m pleased with that.”

On the inexperienced defense end
“Even tonight Courtney (Bruce) did some brilliant work. She’s going to be an absolute champion of the future – the press around her, that we don’t have an ‘intimidating’ defense I think is rubbish. It’s more that make sure we score off those turnovers that we gain. But it’s also our defenders that were guilty of not getting the ball through on attack. In general – we didn’t play the Silver Ferns well!  Don’t forget the influence of Bailey Mes in the centre third, with her defense, she made a hell of difference. Because of her athleticism, she provided two points to the zone that haven’t been there before, and we didn’t respect her enough.  We threw into her hands deep in our defensive third.  That’s unacceptable – the defenders know it should be zero turnovers.”

On whether Mes playing goal attack was a surprise
“Yeah, a little bit, but when we saw the lineup, it made sense. Selby-Rickit had a hard time against the English and ran out of puff, and it was a good move – Bailey has played goal attack so many times before, and Selby-Rickit is an excellent shooter. It was a good changeup and it was what they needed. The Silver Ferns weren’t going to take getting beaten by England lying down! We knew that they were going to be bloody hard tonight, and that’s what you saw.”

On the exchange of shooters in the third quarter
“We didn’t think that anything around CBass was going wrong as such, but we wanted to see what that variation and movement (of Caitlin Thwaites) could bring us.”

 

Caitlin Bassett

On issues accessing the shooters
I think it was getting the ball to the circle that was the issue tonight. Sometimes whether it was lack of drive, or me moving out of the circle, but things that we’ve been building in the past couple of games, they didn’t come out tonight. Liz Watson’s versatility playing wing attack and centre was a strength for us tonight.”

On how to be a good captain when each player needs different encouragement
“It’s knowing your teammates — I haven’t played with any of these girls this year. Some of them have formed strong combinations, which we saw tonight, Tegan and Lizzy together, while Gretel and myself are still developing that combination. Tonight we lost our connection and didn’t play as a team – too much individual work and not enough unit work. They split us apart and exposed us, and we didn’t step up and get back together again.”