While Australia comfortably wrapped up the third Constellation Cup match in Adelaide last night, it was a game most notable for inconsistency across four quarters. How else to explain a match where there was a total of 76 turnovers, when one quarter was relatively even, the Diamonds won two quarters by a combined 17 goals, and the Silver Ferns took out one quarter by seven goals? Both teams produced some sublime passages of play, but too often – particularly by the visitors – were let down by rookie errors of skill and execution.

Starting line ups

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

Silver Ferns
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 Fakahokotau, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Jane Watson, Maia Wilson

Umpires: Jackie Mizon, Joan Abdullah

 

Both teams opened using their starting line-ups from the previous two test matches, with New Zealand showing greater intensity than previous efforts. The opening five minutes was a messy affair, with forced – through strong defensive efforts – and unforced errors keeping players busily scrambling after loose balls. Each team was swinging the ball across court in an attempt to open up play, with short, direct passing sacrificed as a result of the close physical marking.

Caitlin Bassett was a strong presence for the Diamonds under the post, outplaying the Silver Ferns’ young goal keeper, Kelly Jury. The latter is a work in progress; at present she is caught playing behind Bassett too often, and doesn’t yet have the footwork to manoeuvre in front of her opponent  to contest the ball. Despite that, her quick reflexes saw her pick up an intercept and five deflections during her cameos on court. Katrina Grant was closely marking her opponent, Susan Pettitt, keeping her to two goals for the quarter, and eventually sending her to the bench.

Scoring was more evenly spread in the Ferns’ attacking end, with Bailey Mes and Maria Tutaia ending the first quarter with five goals apiece. In the dying seconds of the term Tutaia caught the ball just inside the circle, checked to see that her heels were clear of the line, and sank the goal as the buzzer sounded. Neither side had established a clear ascendancy, with the Diamonds holding a narrow lead, 12–10.

In the second quarter the Diamonds were ruthlessly brilliant, helped along the way by some sloppy, basic errors by the Ferns’ attacking players, including breaking, footwork and offside. Gina Crampton’s trademark moves into the deep pockets were well covered by her opponent, Gabi Simpson, while Shannon Francois struggled at times to hit the circle edge for good feeding position. As a result the Diamonds goal keeper, Courtney Bruce (3 intercepts, 3 deflections) and April Brandley (1 intercept ,6 deflections) turned the ball over and into attack on numerous occasions. The Diamonds then moved the ball down court at dazzling speed, giving the Silver Ferns little time to transition effectively into defence.

Stephanie Wood replaced Susan Pettitt at goal attack for the Diamonds, and had an immediate impact. While her initial moves were often well covered by Grant, her clever timing and use of body positioning around the circle made the Australian attacking end appear far more fluent. She was supported in this by Bassett’s ever-growing mobility, allowing space for Wood to run the baseline. Liz Watson continued her strong form at wing attack, gaining immaculate feeding position from the circle edge, and taking any opportunity to feed to Bassett when height mismatched against Grant.

As the Diamonds quickly drew out to a 13 goal lead, the Silver Ferns introduced the first of their double-digit changes for the match. Despite shooting at 100% accuracy, Mes was sent to the bench in favour of Te Paea Selby-Rickit, while Kayla Cullen was introduced at wing defence. Shortly afterwards, Crampton left the court, with Sinclair entering the game at centre and Francois moving to wing attack, and then several minutes later Jury exited for Temalisi Fakahokotau at goal keeper. At half time the Diamonds had established an eleven goal margin, leading 30-19.

At the start of the third quarter, Tutaia, who had been shooting at just 64% accuracy in the earlier stages of the match, was replaced by Mes at goal attack. It was a change that many fans had been calling for: the last three games that the Silver Ferns had won against Australia were all minus their regular goal attack. For many years New Zealand’s game plan has revolved around Tutaia, who will shoot from anywhere in the circle. Unfortunately, it can be at the expense of crafting the ball around the circle using triangular play and setting up a more favourable shooting position closer to the post.

The totality of changes worked in the Silver Ferns’ favour. Fakahokotau was confusing the space around Bassett, creating doubt in the feeders’ minds, and then using her footwork to pick off some valuable tips. Cullen’s additional height and wing span enabled her to grab two intercepts, while the shooters were combining well together. Although Selby-Rickit is still learning the craft of goal shoot – when to hold and when to move – she opened up some valuable space for Mes to move into at times.

In contrast the Diamonds were stuttering on attack, particularly when transitioning the ball out of defence. Brandley made way for Jo Weston, a good physical match for the athleticism of Mes, and a safe pair of hands down court. In a remarkable contrast, the Silver Ferns won the quarter by seven goals, reducing the deficit to just four at three quarter time, 38-34.

With Bassett pinned down by the aggressive Fakahokotau, she was replaced for the fourth quarter by Caitlin Thwaites, while Kim Ravaillion was rested by Kate Moloney. Thwaites had a sterling fifteen minutes. Strong on the hold and take, her extra mobility saw the circle unclogged and more freely flowing. Moloney, with established links to Vixens’ teammates Weston and Watson, looked immediately at home. She was a dynamic presence around the circle, switching easily with Watson and showing great maturity for the Diamonds’ latest debutant.

In contrast the Silver Ferns were unable to maintain their intensity, and dropped off the pace. Changes were again rapidly made; Tutaia came on at goal shooter, Jury to goal keeper, Fakahokotau to goal defence, Grant to wing defence, while Sinclair and Cullen fought over the centre bib, with the latter eventually winning it. Far too often Fakahokotau inexplicably dropped back against Thwaites, leaving the less mobile Jury an awkward match up for the speed and strength of Wood. Cullen did well at centre, but was left to play a lone hand at times; when Francois dropped off the circle to reposition, she would move too far towards the centre third line and not aggressively track back towards the shooters.

The margin again blew out, the Diamonds took the quarter by eight goals, the match by 12 and the Constellation Cup 3-0 with a match remaining. It was a disappointing result for most fans, who would far rather see a tense and taut Australia and New Zealand battle than a one sided encounter, no matter how pleasing that might be to one-eyed supporters.

Australian Diamonds 55 def Silver Ferns 43

Australian Diamonds
Bassett 29/31 94%
Susan Pettitt 2/2 100%
Wood 14/18 78%
Thwaites 10/13 77%
55/64  86%

Silver Ferns
Mes 16/17 94%
Tutaia 16/20 80%
Selby-Rickit 11/15 73%
43/52 83%

Player of the match: Courtney Bruce (Australian Diamonds)

 

View From the Bench

At the moment there are more questions than answers around both the Diamonds and the Silver Ferns looking towards the Commonwealth Games. It will be fascinating over the coming months as fans watch these puzzle pieces fall into place:

Australia

  1. Of the four goal attacks who’ve appeared for Australia across the Quad series and Constellation Cup, who will be selected? On form, Pettitt and Wood appear to be the front runners, but Gretel Tippett has a different skill set that selectors have appreciated in the past. The selectors will undoubtedly be having a close look at the Fast5 tournament, where it will be fascinating to compare goal attacks Tippett, Tegan Phillip and Natalie Medhurst.
  2. Watson has stamped her name on the wing attack bid, but will there be room for Robinson in the final 12? Perhaps not! It’s rare to see a team that features two specialist wing attacks. Moloney can cover C/WD, making her valuable cover for the overworked Ravaillion and Simpson if need be.
  3. Has Bruce done enough to claim a place, if both Geitz and Layton should be available? Bruce is undoubtedly the future of Australian goal keepers, but lacks the experience of her two predecessors. However, Geitz has missed a year of netball and may not want to contest the World Cup two years away, while Layton has missed seven valuable matches. Bruce has the added advantage of being able to play all three defensive positions, although it’s been a while since she has been used anywhere but goal keeper.

New Zealand

  1. Are the Silver Fern’s a better team without Maria Tutaia on court? Given their last three wins have been without her, are they better trialling Mes and Selby-Rickit together for a game, leaving Tutaia as an impact player if need be.
  2. The Silver Ferns are lacking leadership in the midcourt. Grace Rasmussen, overlooked for this series, has the composure, silky skills and experience which the current wing attack options are short on. Will she come under consideration again?
  3. Should Southby persevere more with Jury? The youngster is the only Silver Fern capable of matching tall timber opponents. Fakahokotau is 11 cm shorter than Bassett, 15 cm shorter than Romelda Aiken – and despite her athleticism, the margin is noticeable.
  4. Is Francois the answer at centre? She is very athletic, but lacks punch onto the circle edge and precision on the feed. In Langman’s continued absence, is it worth looking at other wing defence options, and moving Sinclair forward permanently?

 

What they said after the game:

Caitlin Thwaites

Your instructions when you came onto court?
“The way that CBass and I play are very different. So in terms of their (Silver Ferns’ hunting ability, it was to get on the move and make them think about something different, which in turn freed up Steph.”

What do you observe from the bench?
“The difference in personnel, the way they changed it up, you definitely have to keep your head in the game to switch on to the individual differences that they add within their structure.”

Is it hard to play behind Bassett?
“I have a role to play within the team, and whether that’s supporting and being eyes for her – potentially something she can’t see out there, or being ready to make an impact coming on.

“I’m always pushing, and that’s something I’m trying to do is push for that starting spot, but if that’s not coming I know I am continuing to make her perform at that high level.”

 

Lisa Alexander, Australian Diamonds coach

On the third quarter?
“We lost our way, and went away from our game plan. It (the intensity) definitely did (drop). We’ve learned from that too, if we’d made a change we might not have had that drop off.”

Sending Bassett to the bench:
“We needed more movement in the circle. She was getting clogged in there and we’ve got the luxury of having another world class shooter who we knew could do the job, and she did it beautifully.

“She (Bassett) had lots of physical attention tonight, so it’s not a bad thing to bring her off and to give Caity (Thwaites) an opportunity to use her beautiful movement skills, and it just changes our whole attack end. We play a little more the Australian, beautiful ball speed, angles game.”

Is this close to the Commonwealth Games team?
“We are at the fine-tuning stage. The team of 13 at the moment, is the team that we think is the best in Australia at this stage. We chose the Constellation Cup as our benchmark event that we’re judged by the AIS, so we picked our best and they’ve delivered, although we’ve got a little bit more to do. But they’re definitely putting their hands up for Commonwealth Games selection, and going away with us in January for the Quad Series.”

 

Janine Southby, Silver Ferns coach

On the umpiring:
“One of the things our shooters practice is getting mauled and smashed and all sorts of things, but they’ve still got to get their shots in. Internationally we’ve got to be better than what we were.”

The difference in the third quarter:
“We needed to make a change, we weren’t good enough in the second quarter. We were making basic errors, it wasn’t working and we needed to change it. I thought the change worked really well.”

Tonight’s match?
“Scoreline aside, there were some really pleasing aspects in tonight’s game compared to what we’ve done in other games, particularly defensively. We’d pulled back a ten goal deficit at half time, and nearly got there but let it slide. It takes energy to pull something back like that, we then need more energy to push on.”

What’s ahead for the fourth game?
“We’ve got to play with pride and we’ve got to play a whole lot better. You don’t step at this level, you don’t break at this level, you’ve just got to cut those basic errors out. We know the passing places we are getting into trouble and we’re still persisting in passing into them, and it’s just not good enough at this level.”

 

Twitter: @Summerhill1003