How can you contain the dynamic Ugandan captain, Peace Proscovia? Having not met since the 2015 Netball World Championship, these two sides came in with scant information on each other, and had to be prepared for the unexpected. While the Africans had seen vision of their foes, the Kiwis were in the dark but had the relative comfort of playing close to home and with familiar umpires. Despite the lack of rigorous regular competition and courtesy of their star goal shooter the She Cranes were able to hold their own, win over the crowd completely, and unnerve the Silver Ferns, losing only by an admirable thirteen goals.

The parochial Kiwi crowd (Photo: Simon Leonard)

Preliminary Round, Day 1, Pool B, Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

New Zealand
GS Bailey Mes
GA Maria Folau
WA Grace Kara
C Shannon Francois
WD Samantha Sinclair
GD Katrina Grant
GK Temalisi Fakahokotau

Uganda
GS Peace Proscovia
GA Rachael Nanyonga
WA Halima Nakachwa
C Ruth Meeme
WD Florence Nanyonga
GD Lilian Ajio
GK Stella Nanfuka

Umpires: Helen George, Kate Stephenson, Gary Burgess

 

The first passage of play from Uganda saw them withstand intense pressure and choose good options, despite Sinclair’s arms being all over Nakachwa’s neck and face, The path to goal was via a penalty against Fakahokotau, and the shot was rewarded by the crowd in full voice. New Zealand had a much easier first scoring opportunity via a characteristic lob to Kara in the pocket, and a sweet mid-range shot from Folau. It proved a scatty start, with both teams passing to players clearing rather than driving, gifting intercepts to the opposition, or making basic errors on the feed. Uganda briefly lead after four minutes, 4-3, before New Zealand levelled the scores.

Uganda’s attack and defence were well-structured, particularly their defensive tracking and awareness of the phase of play. However, they were very singular in their leads, lacking the necessary preliminary moves to shake the defence. New Zealand, now behind by two, needed to stamp some authority on the game by playing simple flat balls to a player driving into space. The improvement came from Grace Kara at wing attack, figuring out the game of Florence Nanyonga and controlling the entire goal third. New Zealand were out 10-7 with four minutes remaining.

Grace Kara rallied New Zealand late in the first quarter (Photo: Simon Leonard)

There could be no doubting the commitment of the Silver Ferns in defence, as they swarmed in a six-player zone covering the goal third and transverse line, and were prepared to put the arm or the body into their opponent in preliminary moves and on the take. Grant, Sinclair, and Francois covered leads well, forcing the smaller Ugandans into long drives towards and along the sidelines.  Francois was key beneficiary, with two intercepts for the quarter. In the last few moments, Proscovia started to use more good timing rather than mere height and athleticism, and shot beautifully from the mid-range, achieving a 100% record and thereby keeping her team in the contest, down 10-15 at the first break.

New Zealand began the second quarter with two new players, Jury at goal keeper, and Kersten at wing defense in her fourth test match. They applied amazing defensive pressure, reading most of Uganda’s passes and flying through to be inches from intercepts. Uganda would have been well-served to realise they should baulk using the ball or direction of gaze to move players in order to create spaces in the zone. They also essentially completely failed to employ preliminary moves, allowing the faster and taller Silver Ferns to get close to most options. Luckily, most of their leads were decisive, and passes hard enough, that they could progress to the goal third and lob to Proscovia. It was 22-16 after six minutes of the second.

Peace Proscovia was calm and reliable on the shot (Photo: Simon Leonard)

The Ugandan captain was fast becoming the darling of the crowd, with her phenomenal leap defying gravity time and again. Such was her favoured position that the crowd heartily booed a suspect umpiring call that suggested Jury had cleanly tipped the ball from her hands. The rest of the She Cranes team did a respectable job of desperately lobbing the ball in, but they always struggled to find space across the mid-third and transverse line. There was no sign from the Africans of an understanding of various methods of combating the zone of the Kiwis, for example, by bodying up to protect and dictate their opponents’ options.

At the other end, Folau was having a field day, nailing 22 shots without a miss. The Ugandan defence were perhaps less threatening in tending to jump vertically to block a shot, rather than jumping forwards and ducking down to avoid an obstruction call. The scoreline was very similar to the first quarter, entering the half time break with the world number two leading 32-22.

After the break the She Cranes returned unchanged, while the Silver Ferns lineup ran from Ekenasio at shooter to Selby-Rickit, Kara, Sinclair, Kersten, Sokolich-Beatson, and Jury. Uganda needed to find some answers to combat the sticky New Zealand zone – either pick up a body to screen a space for a teammate or self, or drive strongly through to draw the defence.

In contrast, the fresh Kiwi players on the court were instantly using their knowledge of the umpires, Ekenasio in particular fending and pushing off to make space, and Jury holding and kneeing Proscovia, while the Ugandan players would ineffectually push a player who was not preparing to make a lead, or were simply too clean and naive for this level of officiating. Those few times that a New Zealander overran a player trying for an intercept, the Ugandans turned and could not see a strong lead to create an open double-play.

There was much to admire in the different formula for the New Zealand attack. The shooters balanced each other well, leading to spaces outside the circle, rotating and clearing for each other, and finding front position. After a near-perfect shooting performance, there were three quick misses in the last two minutes and their accuracy dropped to 81% for the third quarter, the lead 49-37. At the other end, Uganda were still a one-trick pony, aiming to keep possession until a glimmer of opportunity came to lob to their shooter, who kept taking impossible feeds despite being pushed underneath and off the mark by some of the world’s best defenders.

The last stanza opened with the reintroduction of Francois at wing attack and Fakahokotau in goal keeper. Francois continued her good work from the opening half, being available on every phase, and drawing the defensive attention with a strong drive, allowing an easy pass to an unmarked shooter at the post.

The Ugandan heads dropped a little with another missed heavy contact by umpire Stephenson allowing Sinclair to merrily skip down the court for another score. If the path to Proscovia was not to be protected by the umpires, then hope would be lost. Sinclair was in turn given physical attention by Florence Nanyonga who had turned up the heat, attempting to cover the entire goal third alone and getting close to winning possession several times. Despite her doggedness, her side were down 42-58 halfway through the final quarter.

Physicality was ramped up from both teams (Photo: Simon Leonard)

Fakahokotau was stirring up chaos with her patented attacking brand of intimidating defence. Her magic anticipation combined with foot speed and no fear of collisions required Proscovia to use all her smarts, calmness, and core strength, as she knew once the ball was pegged downcourt she would be hit every time. It was a battle for crowd affection, when somehow Fakahokotau nabbed a rebound from a distant out-of-play position, but the She Cranes shooter replied with three stunning takes and accurate shots, the crowd chanting “U-GAN-DA!” The blatant attacking of the body from the whole Kiwi backline continued and was essentially missed every time by the umpires, turning the last few minutes into a bit of a brawl. In a last humorous moment, Sokolich-Beatson gave a lift to Fakahokotau, yet Uganda sank the goal. Captain Peace Proscovia had been the guiding light for her team, and they recorded a very pleasing loss by a tiny margin compared to their previous 43-goal loss, down 64-51.

New Zealand 64 def Uganda 51

 

Shooting stats

New Zealand
Mes 10/17 59%
Folau 22/22 100%
Ekenasio 19/26 73%
Selby-Rickit 13/14 93%
64/79 81%

Uganda
Proscovia 37/42 88%
Nanyonga 14/16 88%
51/58 88%

 

Rachel Nanyonga, Uganda

“It was so nice on our side today! Playing New Zealand, and we scored more goals than in the (2015 Sydney) World Cup. The improvement has come from our captain Peace, because she plays in a club in the UK, now she brought that experience to us.”

“We have to learn about these umpires – we don’t have such umpires in Uganda. But this time around, when we come this side of the world, we learn more about them. We need to collect our mistakes that you’ve seen here, so that we can win other games.”

 

Peace Proscovia, Uganda

“Losing a game to New Zealand by not much means we can do it, and we are determined to do it. I feel excited for that game – I believe New Zealand came in strong, and we went in strong, too. At the end of the day there’s a winner, but with the performance today I’m pleased, and we are determined to move forward.”

“I’m used to the physicality. I’ve played against worse physical players, so I’m used to it. It was a highly contested game, which was interesting for me.”

“The crowd was amazing – they are the BEST! We never expected to get a big crowd, but we see the people in Australia are very hospitable and very lovely. I’m so glad that they came in to cheer us, a big thanks to everyone that came out!”

 

Katrina Grant, New Zealand

“Going to the bench in the first game of a long week was planned – we need to keep people fresh, get combinations going, and get everyone on court.”

“We haven’t changed our game plan much over the last six weeks. We really want to nail it, we get better with more game time together. We’ve show that today, and need to keep going”

“The improvement in (the Ugandan team) is in their shooter. Their goal-shoot’s an outstanding player, it’s so hard to get ball off her. She’s really lifting that side.”

On whether knowing umpires well is an advantage to the more experienced sides
“If you don’t know an umpire it means you can test the rules and see how far you might get. We probably needed to attack more and have a go, whereas Uganda sometimes threw themselves around and got the benefit of the doubt to get ball off us.”

On mentoring Sokolich-Beaton to play the same positions as herself
“Michaela is an outstanding person and player, on and off the court. She will give as good as she gets – telling us what we should be doing, if you’re playing with her, she’ll say if you need to pick up your work rate! She’s got an amazing netball brain, she’s such a great asset to this team.”

 

Janine Southby, New Zealand coach

“It’s good to get it out of the way, there were definitely nerves out there. Uganda played well, with some more experienced players getting better each time. We were unsure of what to expect. The last match with them was in 2015. You just don’t know what some teams have been doing for the past few years. We focus on what we think they’re like, but don’t expect it, because we can get in trouble. The players dealt okay with the close game, they knew this could be a possibility. We talk about the “what ifs?”… what if we don’t pull away? You’ve just got to keep doing your job.

Francois played with discipline as the match got tougher (Photo: Simon Leonard)

“On attack in the first quarter we were a bit sloppy. Second and third quarters our numbers were good. Also we didn’t create enough turnover ball, and that’s something that we’ll be looking at. Across the group, they contributed in their own ways, but certainly the group that came on at half time did really well letting the ball go. I thought Ameliaranne shot really well – she was strong and confident in there. I thought Temalisi came on and off the court really well, too.”

On the rookie playing wing defence
“Claire Kersten is a really quiet unassuming player. She just goes about her business unnoticed, and all of a sudden she comes up with ball, and she was close to getting some tonight. I’m really pleased, she’s a great girl in the group, she gets on and does her job.”

On managing the player’s focus throughout the Commonwealth Games
“You want the girls to enjoy the opening ceremony. When they enjoy their netball they play good netball. It’s a unique experience for everyone, and you want them to focus on what they need to do to perform, but also to embrace the opportunity that the Games brings. You don’t want them to relax and cruise and see what else is happening out there! There’s a balance, you don’t want them to walk away thinking it was no fun either. We’re trusting that they’re responsible and that they’ll make good decisions – if we see that they’re not, we’ll talk to them about it. We’ve got a really cool New Zealand compound, and the NZ team have connected us all in our own ways, while allowing us to perform in our own sports. The different nationalities and the vibrancy over the last two days has been just growing and the vibe is really cool!”

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