The Australian Diamonds produced their most compelling form of the Constellation Cup series, clean sweeping the four games against New Zealand. Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander was quietly pleased with her new-look team, as they improved their winning margin in every game, from three to eight, 12 and finally 16 goals. It was a heart-breaking result for the Silver Ferns, who worryingly capitulated in the second half of this match, after holding the Australians to relatively level terms in the first thirty minutes. Janine Southby, Ferns coach, said after the match, “We all need to go and have a really good, hard look at ourselves, and we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few months.”

Photo: Danny Dalton

Starting line ups

Australian Diamonds
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Steph Wood
WA Liz Watson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
Bench: April Brandley, Kate Moloney, Caitlin Thwaites, Caitlyn Nevins, Susan Pettitt

Silver Ferns
GS Te Paea Selby-Rickit
GA Bailey Mes
WA Shannon Francois
C Samantha Sinclair
WD Kayla Cullen
GD Katrina Grant
GK Temalisi Fakahokotau
Bench: Gina Crampton, Kelly Jury, Maria Tutaia, Jane Watson, Maia Wilson

Umpires: Kate Stephenson, Joan Abdullah

The fourth and final Constellation Cup match opened with that rarest of sights – star goal attack Maria Tutaia starting on the bench. It was a decisive move from a team desperate for redemption after three consecutive losses to Australia. New Zealand’s last three wins against their arch rivals have been in Tutaia’s absence; perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps a sign of a more functional forward line.

The Silver Ferns started well, jumping out to a five goal lead after forcing the Diamonds into some basic errors. Te Paea Selby-Rickit was finding good position in the circle against Courtney Bruce, who found it difficult to move around her opponent to create turnover ball. Bailey Mes appeared less comfortable at goal attack, and although she was working hard outside the circle, the midcourt was reluctant to let the ball go to her when in shooting range. Jo Weston, at goal defence, proved to be a good match for Mes’ height and athleticism, covering many of her preliminary moves.

Photo: Danny Dalton

At the other end of the court, Caitlin Bassett was having a torrid time against the very physical presence and perhaps illegal holding by her opponent, Temalisi Fakahokotau. While the latter’s increased mobility and vertical leap allowed her disrupt play on a number of occasions, her challenges remain an area of concern. Lisa Alexander said after the game, “The physicality was a bit over the top, to be honest, and something I’ll speak to the umpires about.”

With the Silver Ferns holding a one goal lead at quarter time, 13-12, fans were optimistic of a more even contest. Liz Watson had been relatively well held in the first quarter by Kayla Cullen, whose speed and anticipation helped create some valuable turnovers. As the game progressed however, Watson began to increase her output, getting free for more centre passes, and providing some sublime feeds from the circle edge. Cullen became visibly frustrated, arguing with the umpire and eventually receiving a warning and a caution for some unduly rough play.

Photo: Danny Dalton

Watson explained, “I knew it was going to be physical, and I kind of like the physicality of the game. It’s something that I thrive on. You know when they are starting to get physical that they could be getting frustrated so you have to take that as a positive. So, brush it off and keep going is what I’m aiming to do.”

Kim Ravaillion was having one of her better games for the season, and far too often was allowed clear passage to the circle edge, from where her beautifully weighted passes were finding their target.

At the six minute mark of the quarter, Tutaia was introduced at the expense of Mes, who had been held scoreless to that point. Shortly afterwards, Caitlin Thwaites took the court at goal shooter, in her best international performance of the year. A calming influence on the team, her greater agility opened up the Diamonds circle allowing both shooters more room to move. She also showed great strength holding against Fakahokotau, turning her body to protect the ball as it was passed to her.

Photo: Danny Dalton

In contrast Tutaia was a somewhat lackadaisical presence, making far too many simple errors for such a senior player. Of the Silver Ferns’ high count of 38 turnovers, the three shooters worryingly produced 23 of them (Selby-Rickit 10, Tutaia 8, Mes 5). In addition, far too many shots were being taken from range. From outside the 2.5 metre region, the Silver Ferns shot nine goals from 15 attempts at just 60% accuracy, squandered opportunities. This was in contrast to the Diamonds, whose accuracy was worse at 43%, but they attempted just seven shots from that distance, preferring to craft the ball in closer to the ring.

At half time, the game was still winnable by either side, with the Diamonds leading 26-22.

Puzzlingly, at the start of the third quarter Samantha Sinclair, one of the Ferns’ most determined players, was benched, with Gina Crampton introduced at wing attack and Shannon Francois moved back to centre. Despite the pair being accustomed to each other’s play at the Southern Steel, they haven’t been able to match their Australian opponents in this series. Crampton is guilty at times of playing too far up court, not trusting her defenders to carry the ball into attack: Katrina Grant and Cullen are both highly capable in this regard. With players out of position as a result, the structure of the attacking unit breaks down. She also drives deep into the pockets around the circle in preference to commanding the top of the circle, a move which is generally well covered by the energetic Gabi Simpson.

Francois is yet to establish herself as a strong attacking player, falling too far off the circle, not counterpunching back again to the edge when she resets, and hesitating to feed her shooters. This may be a result of being able to regularly throw the highball to former Steel teammate and towering goal shooter, Jhanielle Fowler-Reid, a pass which can come at the expense of craft and guile.

Photo: Danny Dalton

Stephanie Wood had another fine game at goal attack, her front cuts around the circle and ability to go to the post both features of her game. She’s been able to gain shooting confidence without the intimidating presence of a tall, long-armed player defending her shot – an area that the Silver Ferns have excelled at in the past with players the ilk of Casey Kopua, Leana de Bruin and Anna Harrison. However, in this series, 192 cm keeper Kelly Jury has crossed paths with Wood for just one quarter. Tactically, the opportunity to possibly unsettle the Australian in this manner, early in her international career, has been lost, and Wood’s progress has been outstanding.

Photo: Danny Dalton

With the Diamonds’ lead extended to nine at three quarter time, the Ferns made a number of changes to start the final term. Sinclair was brought back onto wing defence, Mes came on at goal shooter, and Jane Watson at goal keeper. For Australia, Susan Pettitt was introduced at goal attack. She showed great presence, settling the attack end and demonstrating her understanding with Thwaites. Jane Watson was caught out of position hunting the ball once too often, and the Silver Ferns again shuffled their line, with Cullen brought on at goal defence, Katrina Grant moved back to goal keeper, and Maia Wilson brought on at goal shooter.

Shortly afterwards Lisa Alexander emptied her bench, with April Brandley taking the court at goal defence, Caitlyn Nevins at wing attack and Kate Moloney at centre. The changes were relatively seamless for the Australians, something they’ve been working towards since introducing so many new players to the team. While the Diamonds ran out the game with great energy and passion, the Silver Ferns looked flat and lost further ground, with the final margin 58-42.

Australian Diamonds 58 def Silver Ferns 42
Player of the match: Liz Watson (Australia)

 

Shooting stats

Australian Diamonds
Bassett 9/12 75%
Wood 15/20 75%
Thwaites 30/32 94%
Pettitt 4/6 67%
58/70 83%

Silver Ferns
Selby-Rickit 24/28 86%
Mes 1/3 33%
Tutaia 12/17 71%
Wilson 5/6 83%
42/53 79%

 

Photo: Danny Dalton

View from the bench

The Australians would be well pleased with this international series. Despite having one of their most inexperienced teams in recent years, the Diamonds have made steady progress in bedding down new units and combinations out on court. Worthy of particular mention is the defence. Bruce and Mannix were uncapped at the start of the Netball Quad series; Brandley, with just 14 caps to her name was the most experienced. Despite this, they outplayed far more experienced opponents, forcing Tutaia and Mes to the bench at times.

While the Silver Ferns also have an inexperienced group, even their more senior players struggled. There was a lack of leadership through the midcourt, where the loss of Laura Langman remains a gaping hole. As the series progressed the defenders won more ball – in this game picking up more intercepts and deflections than the Australians – only to see it squandered at the opposite end of the court.

Grace Rasmussen should earn a recall, and young players Sinclair and Fakahokotau have proved their worth. Cullen is still being managed after knee surgery, and coaching staff will be hoping that she will soon be match fit and able to run for four quarters.

 

Liz Watson

Having moved from her more familiar role at centre, Liz Watson has had an extraordinary domestic and international season. She has staked her claim on the Diamonds’ wing attack bib, and will be a strong contender for the coveted Liz Ellis Diamond.

Coach Lisa Alexander paid tribute to the young player, saying, “She went away over summer and worked on some very specific things with her feedback. I have to admire that, she took that on. Her coach, Simone McKinnis assisted with that, and gave her the confidence to really blossom. It was fine tuning a few things, we wanted her to work on her speed a little bit more, her touch with her passing, and I think she’s just taken it to a whole new level through the Suncorp Super Netball and also in this series and the former series.

“They (Silver Ferns) were out to stop her, they knew she was our main driver in attack and we’re going to have to look at that.”


The 2018 Quad Series

The Diamonds tour England and South Africa in the Netball Quad series at the start of 2018, their last international hitout before the Commonwealth Games. They will again travel with a squad of 14. Lisa Alexander explained, “We now have a squad mentality. It pushes everyone to ensure that their training is right, their high performance behaviours are exactly right, and that’s what we’ve got to have.”

While the inexperienced defensive unit have performed above expectations, there could be changes made with the possibility of Laura Geitz and Sharni Layton returning to the team. That decision will be made in December. Alexander said, “They’ve got a bit of time on their side, and I don’t want to put any extra pressure on, particularly Sharni, she’s had a fairly major health issue this year.”

 

What they said after the game

Lisa Alexander, Australian Diamonds coach

Will Commonwealth Games selection be a headache?
“What you want is a headache. If you’re not having a headache, you’re not doing your systems work well enough, and making the base deep enough, so that’s what we need.”

On Jo Weston’s performance tonight
“We knew she was ready for a performance like that, and really it’s just those connections in the unit that she’s built in her training environment.

“I thought her game on Mes the other night was telling, it showed us that she really knows how to shut her down. It’s terrific for us that we’ve got fantastic defenders that show a bit of variability in their play and can match up well on what the Kiwis have.”

The introduction of Caitlin Thwaites
“(I thought she was) really wonderful. We just wanted to change it up. When Caitlin comes on it changes our whole attacking end, the traditionalists love it because they see the ball movement.

“We just got a bit bogged down (in our goal circle), and there was also the very physical nature of defence in the circle that didn’t help.”

 

Liz Watson, Australian Diamonds

On her Constellation Cup series
“It feels really comfortable out there on court. I think I’m starting to find a little bit of my groove at wing attack. We switched the goalers and the middies around, and we all fitted in seamlessly.”

 

Janine Southby, Silver Ferns coach

What went wrong tonight?
“We just lost the connections (in attack). It’s something that we identified pretty early on in the piece and were working hard, and they take time to grow. The trouble is when you are playing a quality side like Australia, if you have one that is slightly off, they just get those intercepts. We’ve got a lot of work to do, we are really aware of that, but I don’t want to take away from the fact that the Australians played very well today.”

“In the early part (of the series) we didn’t get enough gains. Now we are getting the gains, we are not treasuring possession.”

What were you pleased with tonight?
“Our start was really strong and I thought the girls handled it really well, but when the intensity lifted, they didn’t.”