Australia and New Zealand came into today’s match with highly contrasting form. Australia were undefeated in Pool A, with their closest margin 21 goals up against Jamaica. New Zealand, while ranked 2nd in Pool B, had two losses, to England (9 goals) and Malawi (4 goals). Australia have well and truly held the wood over New Zealand in the last Constellation Cup series, with win margins increasing from four to 19 goals across their last five meetings. In this game the margin pushed out even further – Australia’s winning margin of 21 goals was their greatest against New Zealand at any Commonwealth Games.

TEAMS

Australia GS Caitlin Bassett (Captain), GA Susan Pettitt, WA Madison Robinson, C Kimberley Ravaillion, WD Gabi Simpson, GD Joanna Weston, GK Laura Geitz.
Bench: April Brandley, Courtney Bruce, Caitlin Thwaites, Liz Watson, Stephanie Wood
Coach: Lisa Alexander

Changes
2nd Quarter – (during) Watson to C
3rd Quarter – Thwaites GS, Wood GA, Bruce GD
4th Quarter – Watson to WA, Ravaillion C, Brandley WD, then Weston to GD, Bruce to GK

New Zealand GS Te Paea Selby-Rickit, GA Maria Folau, WA Grace Kara, C Samantha Sinclair, WD Claire Kersten, GD Katrina Grant (Captain), Temalisi Fakahokotau
Bench: Ameliaranne Ekanasio, Shannon Francois, Kelly Jury, Bailey Mes, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson.
Coach: Janine Southby

Changes
2nd Quarter – Francois C, then Mes to GS
3rd Quarter – Sinclair WD, then Ekanasio to GS, Sokolich-Beatson to GD, Grant to GK
4th Quarter

Umpires: Gary Burgess (ENG), Jackie Mizon (ENG), Kate Stephenson (ENG)

Pettitt in control. Photo: Simon Leonard

Australia started the match as they intended to go on, with a clinical display of near flawless netball. Madison Robinson and Susan Pettitt were instrumental in controlling the front half of the court, varying their approach to goal, and switching the ball smoothly around the circle. Robinson controlled the circle edge, frequently taking advantage of the height difference that Caitlin Bassett enjoyed over the defenders with a perfectly placed flat lob. Neither Claire Kersten, or later Sam Sinclair, were able to slow the dominant wing attack, who’s been in sparkling form for Australia this week.

Pettitt and Bassett were tested early by the New Zealand circle defence of Katrina Grant and Temalisi Fakahokotau, who came up with six intercepts and seven deflections between them. While it caused some hesitation in how the Australian midcourt fed its shooters, they varied their usual speed and flair with the patience needed to work their way through the puzzle. Pettitt was in vintage form, taking up the burden of shooting in the early stages of the game. She was unstoppable, switching up front cuts and re-offers in the outer circle, with baseline drives made possible by a Bassett screen. Neither shooter settled into a predictable pattern, which made the defenders jobs far more difficult as they had limited cues to read off.

 

Fakahokotau created opportunities for NZ. Photo: Simon Leonard

Unfortunately New Zealand found it difficult to capitalise on the turnovers created by their defence. Movement through court was more laboured, with the ball becoming almost static at times across their attacking transverse line. The Australian centres and wing defences worked the ground hard to keep their opponents away from prime feeding position around the circle. Grace Kara, at wing attack, was guilty of too often driving into the left hand pocket, a move that Simpson (WD) and Laura Geitz (GK) both started to read. It created a reluctance of the New Zealand line to pass to Kara, instead either moving the ball backwards, or passing to Maria Folau at the top of the circle.

It is difficult to summarise the work of Folau tonight. On one hand she almost single-handedly carried the shooting circle, dropping in 32 of the team’s 44 goals at 78 % accuracy. The three shooters she worked with combined for just 12 goals between them, across four quarters of netball. Here in lies the difficulty. Did Folau save the day because the New Zealand goal shooters struggled so much? Or did the circle feeders look straight for Folau as their “get out of jail card”, when they would have been better served bringing their shooters into the game, both from a volume and closeness to the post perspective.

Folau looks magnificent when she shoots long, but with a shooting average in the 70s, it is a lot of opportunity that goes begging when she misses. In this game Australia took 7 defensive rebounds, generally scoring at the opposite end of the court, while New Zealand in contrast had just 1 offensive rebound.

Folau played a lone hand in goals for NZ. Photo: Marcela Massey

Laura Geitz was a significant factor in Australia’s victory tonight. She forced New Zealand into trying all three of their shooters, with none of them registering volume or great accuracy. Starter Te Paea Selby-Rickit has had very limited experience against the former Australian captain, and found it difficult to maintain position against the speed and agility of Geitz’s footwork. Geitz combined well with both goal defences, although Courtney Bruce was particularly effective in driving the ball long down court over the New Zealand zone.

Bailey Mes replaced Selby-Rickit during the second quarter, although was even less effective. She picked up several offensive contacts against her in her first few minutes on court, and shot just two from three goals during her cameo. Kim Ravaillion was also switched with Liz Watson, who provided a strong, measured approach to her role at centre.

By half time, Australia led New Zealand 32 goals to 21. While Bassett and Pettitt were contributing almost equally to goals, Folau was playing almost a long hand for New Zealand. She’d scored 17 goals, to her goal shooters combined four goals.

Australia were comfortable in making considerable changes to their line at half time, a tactic they’ve used all tournament. Their opposition can never settle into working against one opponent, they rest legs for the next game and most importantly, there is no lapse as the changes take place. Quite often, the team actually comes out more strongly after they’ve rotated players, while the opposition has a lapse while they assess the changes!

Watson. Photo: Simon Leonard

Caitlin Thwaites, Steph Wood and Courtney Bruce all took the court after half time. Steph Wood took a little while to adapt to the ground speed of her opponent Katrina Grant, and appeared far more comfortable once Sokolich-Beatson came on against her. Grant was then moved back to goal keeper in a bid to quell Thwaites, who was dominant. She would have to be considered the equal of Bassett now, but is particularly adaptable coming off the bench, making an impact as soon as she steps on court.

While Australia certainly had some set plays in motion, it rarely seemed like it. Their movement through court appeared random and unpredictable, but was obviously the result of long and thoroughly practiced work. For example, while Robinson tended to be dominant on the centre pass, it was shared between the group, not allowing New Zealand to settle into a defensive structure. Australia always had at least two, if not three options for the pass, in contrast to New Zealand who lacked options going forwards.

Both sides started to play long, end to end netball to clear defensive midcourts intent on pushing play towards the sidelines. Robinson was sent to the bench in the final term for a well-earned rest, while Ravillion, Watson and April Brandley rotated through the midcourt. It proved to be the closest quarter of the match, with the Diamonds winning the 15 minute period by just one goal.

New Zealand certainly had the opportunities to make the game far closer than it was. They came up with twice the number of intercepts that Australia did, but inferior shooting percentage and greater turnover rate proved to be the difference. A measure of just how good the Diamonds game proved to be was in their own turnover rate – producing the remarkably low number of just six for the entire game. In contrast New Zealand had 16. It’s still very reasonable, but the Diamonds were able to pick up loose balls or rebound missed goals, and convert at the other end.

When the final siren sounded there was little of the jubilation or despair that characterised the English/Jamaican game before it. The margin was a blow-out, the Diamonds far too clinical and the Silver Ferns struggling.

Australia will go on to play England in the gold medal match. Based on form they should be far too good. New Zealand will be lucky if they can get up for bronze but appear more likely to be relegated to fourth. They will play a devastated Jamaica, who went down to England by just one in the earlier semi-final. However, they are medal matches, and as we’ve learned, anything is possible.

FINAL SCORE: Australia defeated New Zealand 65 – 44

SHOOTING STATISTICS

Australia: Caitlin Bassett 17/18 (94%), Susan Pettitt 15/16 (94%), Caitlin Thwaites 24/25 (96%), Steph Wood 9/12 (75%)

New Zealand: Maria Folau 32/41 (78%), Te Paea Selby-Rickit 3/5 (60%), Ameliaranne Ekanasio 7/9 (78%)

KEY STATISTICS

Australia:
Laura Geitz – 0 intercepts, 4 deflections, 4 rebounds
Courtney Bruce – 0 intercepts, 5 deflections, 2 rebounds
Gabi Simpson – 2 intercepts, 1 deflection
Madi Robinson – 2 intercepts
Team Turnovers – 6 (Caitlin Bassett – 2)

New Zealand:
Katrina Grant – 4 intercepts, 2 deflections, 2 rebounds
Temalisi Fakahokotau – 2 intercepts, 5 deflections
Team Turnovers – 16 (Maria Folau – 5, Bailey Mes 4, Te Paea Selby-Rickit 2)

 

WHAT THEY SAID AFTER THE GAME:

Lisa Alexander has her team finely tuned. Photo: Simon Leonard

Lisa Alexander (coach, Australia)

What we wanted tonight was a clinical win, because what can happen when you’re playing such a respected opponent as the Silver Ferns is that you can get caught up in the emotion of it. So we were working through our process, very boring stuff, but they did it pretty well tonight. The last quarter was a little bit disappointing, but I think our attack end was beautifully constructed by Madi Robinson. There’s no doubt she’s playing very well. Laura Geitz having the impact she did as well. But all of them did a great job, it’s wonderful.”

At half time you made seamless changes. “It’s not difficult to make seamless changes because we’ve been practicing it for a long time.

Long court transition was one of your work-ons. Were you happy with it tonight? “Yes, I thought Courtney put some great balls in. She is a really talented player. I thought her work in GD was sublime tonight, she did some beautiful things.”
“April Brandley was probably stiff tonight, she’s played really well for us all week. But she’s rested for tomorrow.”

Have you improved that much or have the Ferns gone backwards? “It’s really hard for me to make a judgement call on that, I’m sorry I can’t. I think we’ve gone ahead. I don’t think the Silver Ferns have necessarily gone backwards but we have taken our game to a new level. We always believed we could, but it was a matter of execution in doing that. I don’t want to presume to say anything about the Silver Ferns program, because I have enormous respect for how difficult it is as a national coach, particularly for Janine. I support and have been a very respectful colleague of hers for a long time. She carries herself with great dignity and I think some of the stuff in the press has been really distasteful. Coaching, especially at the national level, is really difficult.”

What do you expect from England? “More improvement from them for a start. They will have a good look at the game. The coaches watched the second and the third quarter, and Jamaica were on top then. So we will need to have a good look at the fourth quarter, with our performance analyst as well. They’re clearly fighters. That’s what you’ve got on your hands with England now. They are going to fight for everything. They’ve got change-ups as well. It’s a credit to them to come from behind and beat Jamaica like that.”

How will you defend your gold from Glasgow? “We don’t really think like that. Like defending your gold medal, because if you think like that you will get stuck. We just want to make sure this game we improve again. We showed that today, particularly the first three quarters, we’ve got more improvement in us.”

Australia salute the crowd. Photo: Simon Leonard

Laura Geitz (Australia)

“To get that result and head into the gold medal match is obviously what we set out to do here. But that first half it was hard work, as you would expect against the Silver Ferns it was a real grind. It was tough work, at times the score it might not reflect, but I thought they did a very honourable job of earning some respect back and playing with pride today so they were a really tough opposition.”

How did you feel leading into the match? “Personally a lot of nerves, I think maybe that’s because that’s my first time playing New Zealand in a very long time. As much as experience in the past counts for something it’s still been a long time since I’ve suited up against them. They’ve always been our biggest rivals. Walking into the stadium and having the first semi-final and hearing the crowd and the anticipation of which way that was going to go and it being such a close game. Warming up and hearing so much atmosphere in here probably added to our nerves a little bit, but definitely good nerves, a lot of excitement and the last two days we’ve just been sitting around just wanting to get out here and play.”

Facing England in the Gold Medal match “It’ll be a really, really tough game tomorrow. I think they’ve proved they’ve mentally got the edge in a way. In previous years they possibly weren’t able to turn games around, and when they were down it was hard for them to fight back. Not knowing too much about the game beforehand, but obviously they were down and came back so they’re going to take huge confidence from that. Their style of play is very similar to ours in a way, so they’re going to be a very tough opponent tomorrow.”

What do you need to do defensively against England? “That will be tonight’s job, sitting down and taking a very close look at what they did against Jamaica. I don’t know too much about what they did out there today, but from the games we’ve watched, they’ve got great ball speed, Chelsea their WA has added a lot of smarts to them, defensively Geva and Ama are physical and strong, they win ball and they’re able to convert that ball very quickly. So for us, it will be about slowing that ball down in the midcourt and getting front position, and every ball that we get off them we need to score off and apply that pressure back to them.”

What were the keys to the win? “I think just again the depth that Lisa is showing that she’s got in being able to put out any combination and putting the foot down and bringing those fresh legs on. Defensively across the court, over this whole tournament that’s probably been one of our impressive things of our game. That gauntlet of watching the opposition trying to bring that ball down long-court. Our attackers are doing a phenomenal job in that hard one-on-one defence. Just converting off all of our opportunities and applying that scoreboard pressure has been one of our most satisfying things of this tournament.”

How is this team different to the other great Australian teams you’ve played been? “I think this team is very different to the other teams that I’ve played in. Probably the one thing that stands out is each individual’s responsibility of doing the work behind the scenes that no one else sees. They prepare themselves, their professionalism is just outstanding. Me coming back into the environment, it was something that really blew me away. They tick every box, and for young athletes that haven’t got so much experience, for them to be doing that at this stage of their career is so impressive. So it’s a wonderful team to be a part of and they really do blow me away with their enthusiasm and energy, it’s a really nice thing to be a part of.”

Another captain’s performance from Grant. Photo: Marcela Massey

Janine Southby (coach, New Zealand)

“We were (under pressure), credit to Australia, at the moment they’re a quality team. We’ve known that – we’ve looked and tried to find weaknesses and there weren’t many, so we knew it was going to be tough to get gains, and we knew we had to be really accurate on attack, and we didn’t bring that game today. We knew there would be pressure on every ball, and we had plans in place, but we didn’t execute and stay connected under pressure.”

“We can sit and feel sorry for ourselves and go in to blame mode, and make excuses – but it’s about taking ownership and getting on with it. We’ve got a job to do tomorrow, and we’ve gotta be strong, we’ve gotta turn around and do it.”

How do you motivate players when they’re down? “Obviously without making it sound like it’s all roses and everything, you’ve got to find the positives in what they’re doing, but it’s being realistic about – how can you keep putting this out time and time again. For some it’s a massive learning curve, their first Commonwealth Games, and that’s massive pressure, completely different environment than what they normally operate in. There’s some positive stuff out there today… it’s hard to find because it’s few and far between.”

On the weaknesses in the zone defence “You saw in the first couple of quarters from Katrina and Temalisi some good turnover ball from that ability to change and play off the man. But as you say, sometimes that can be exploited, and that’s being able to change up and keep the pressure on. To a certain extent we didn’t all do our jobs consistently all through the court. When you don’t do that, then they get easy outlets, and that’s where it took the pressure off them again.”

On the similar losing margins to Australia – South Africa, Jamaica, New Zealand, all down by 21-22 goals

“They’ve got a massive shooter, and she’s playing really well – it’s hard to stop ball coming in to her. It comes down to our attacking end, making sure that we have low turnovers. You know today, we only had 19 losses, which is actually pretty good for us. But we didn’t get our attacking rebounds. Unfortunately we lost a couple through some umpire calls, which at times feel a little bit puzzling. But at times you have to adjust, because they rule what they see, and they don’t often change!”

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