The first match of the 2017 Constellation Cup was highly anticipated – particularly to see how the Australian Diamonds would respond after losing their last match against the Ferns and also the Quad Series title. Smarting from that 10 goal loss, the Diamonds came out to prove a point. They ground out a physically demanding contest, winning 57-54 at Spark Arena in front of a vocal Auckland crowd.

 

Starting lineups

New Zealand
GS – Bailey Mes
GA – Maria Tutaia
WA – Gina Crampton
C – Shannon Francois
WD – Sam Sinclair
GD – Katrina Grant
GK – Kelly Jury
Bench – Kayla Cullen, Temalisi Fakahokatau, Te Paea Selby-Rickitt, Whitney Souness, Maia Wilson
Coach – Janine Southby

Australia
GS – Caitlin Bassett
GA – Susan Pettitt
WA – Liz Watson
C – Kim Ravaillion
WD – Gabi Sinclair
GD – April Brandley
GK – Courtney Bruce
Bench –Emily Mannix, Caitlyn Nevins, Caitlin Thwaites, Jo Weston, Stephanie Wood
Coach – Lisa Alexander

Umpires – Jackie Mizon, Kate Stephenson, Joan Catherine Yano

 

The match started with great intensity, with the Silver Ferns attacking unit using the width of the court to create space. Shannon Francois and Gina Crampton used angles to feed to Bailey Mes, who used her speed and athleticism to create space past the physical and body on defence of the Australian Diamonds.

The Diamonds patience in attack, coupled with their niggly defence started to pay dividends after the first 5 minutes of the game. Gabi Simpson duly rewarding her team with a couple key defensive turnovers to gift the Diamonds the opportunity to take the lead.

Courtney Bruce looked more comfortable in her role and was a constant in her pressure on both Ferns shooters. Susan Pettitt, although shaky on a couple of her early shots, provided good balance for the Diamonds attacking end and a foil for shooting partner Caitlin Bassett.

Kelly Jury, Katrina Grant and Sam Sinclair were able to slow down the speed of the Diamonds with a number of deflections and rebounds; however, it was Australia who were able to create more opportunities and double their lead in the last 30 seconds of the quarter. The Diamonds went to the first break leading 17-13.

Silver Ferns coach Janine Southby made a positional swap between Mes and Maria Tutaia at the start of the second quarter. However, the Diamonds were able to maintain their lead through the first five minutes. Both teams were successful in gaining turnover ball through a scrappy period of play, but it was the visitors who utilised their advantage more and extended the lead to eight goals.

The injection of Temalisi Fakahokatau and Kayla Cullen into GK and WD with three minutes remaining was welcomed by the Auckland crowd. Although giving away the height advantage to Bassett, Fakahokatau’s elevation and timing providing a key rebound on a missed shot allowed the Ferns to draw the quarter 12-all and head to the main break still trailing by four goals.

Steph Wood was introduced for the Diamonds in the second half. Her combination with Bassett was key to the Lightning success in the Super Netball, with her silky moves, confidence on her shot and great timing she provided a seamless transition in the Diamonds attack end.

Kim Ravaillion’s constant niggly pressure stemmed Francois’ ability to provide clean ball to the shooters and her frustration was visible throughout the quarter. Francois struggled through the first three quarters in providing good options in the attacking third. However, with two turnovers to her name Francois was benched and Sinclair was injected into centre, the first change for the Ferns in this position in seven matches. With the absence of Laura Langman it was a change many had wanted to see.

Defensively the Silver Ferns were hungry, with both Cullen and Fakahokatau providing plenty of impetus on rebounds and loose ball. The third quarter was another where neither team were able to take an advantage – the Diamonds again enjoyed a four-goal lead heading into the final quarter.

Caitlyn Nevins was brought onto WA for the Diamonds with Watson moving to centre. The Silver Ferns started the final quarter with a turnover courtesy of a Gabi Simpson intercept, with Sinclair pulling in her own twisting intercept at the other end of the court.

A slip of the ball out of court from Bassett provided New Zealand with the opportunity to bring the game back to one goal – it brought the Auckland crowd back to life and let the umpires know their thoughts on a number of calls.

A stepping call on Mes allowed the Diamonds to re-establish their four-goal buffer. Sinclair and Cullen lifted their work rate and the Silver Ferns were able to again close the gap on the Diamonds. Nevins was pulled from the court shortly after and Watson resumed her play at WA with Ravaillion reintroduced to centre with six minutes remaining in the game.

The patience and calm manner of the Diamonds ensured they never relinquished the lead. Marai Tutaia was sublime with her long range shooting, however a miss placed pass to Mes under the ring which the Diamonds defence gathered, ensured that Australia would hold on to take the first test of the Constellation Cup.

Player of the match Gabi Simpson epitomised the Australian defensive style with her strength, speed and physicality, providing the key impetus in the first quarter for the Diamonds to take the four-goal lead which they maintained throughout the majority of the match.

Liz Watson took another step to claim ownership of the Diamonds WA bib, with Wood and Pettitt providing great balance in the shooting circle and maintaining composure under the immense pressure of the Silver Ferns defenders.

The Silver Ferns will be happy with their shooting circle and their defensive pressure, however Sam Sinclair needs to be given more of an opportunity at centre as she made an impact, providing more drive and options in attack. Temalisi Fakahokatau displayed improvement in both her speed and elevation.

 

Australian Diamonds 57 def Silver Ferns 54
Player of the Match – Gabi Simpson (Australia)

Australian Diamonds
Bassett 39/43 91%
Pettitt 10/14 71%
Wood 8/8 100%
57/65 88%

Silver Ferns
Mes 23/23 100%
Tutaia 31/37 84%
54/60 90%

 

Cover image: Simon Leonard