A series of poor decisions and sloppy footwork gave the Samsung Australian Diamonds a scare during the first quarter of the opening Constellation Cup game against the New Zealand Silver Ferns.

The game started well for the Diamonds with Kate Moloney granted the start at centre in only her fourth test cap. It took less than 20 seconds for Caitlin Bassett to open her account.

Then, in the Silver Ferns scoring third, Maria Folau overcooked a pass to Gina Crampton which Courtney Bruce pounced on. From there, it looked like the Diamonds would run out to a two-goal lead, but a miss from Bassett allowed the Ferns to retain their centre.

The miss from the usually unflappable Bassett signalled the start of an error-riddled period from both teams. A series of bad passes, held balls, and footwork calls forced the ball back and forth down the court.

The Silver Ferns ever-changing defensive structure forced some of the Diamonds into rushed play causing errors. Their fluid switches between zone defence and one-on-one marking kept the Diamonds attack end guessing and caused confusion on the feed.

When the Diamonds defensive trio of Courtney Bruce, Jo Weston and Gabi Simpson gained a turnover, the transition down the court was laboured. Often the ball did not make it into the Diamond’s circle. In fact, the Diamond’s conversion rate for the first quarter was a meagre 10%, compared to the Silver Ferns at 30%.

Speaking after the game, player of the match, Liz Watson, said the Diamonds had to “grind it out” in the first quarter. Bassett also gave credit to the visitor’s defence, labelling it ‘amazing’.

Halfway through the period the Silver Ferns took a three-goal lead but were unable to retain it. By 13-minute mark the Diamonds levelled the scores at nine a-piece. This was thanks to the tireless pressure being applied by Bruce and Weston who got six gains between them and took one intercept each for the quarter.

After a quiet first, Steph Wood came into the game in the second quarter. She began to use the width of the court, and her dexterous footwork allowed her to cut to the top of the circle or drive the baseline as is her preferred movement.
Wood’s connection with Bassett was also improved. Their duo’s synergy was on display with Bassett willing to get on the move and come out of the circle to create extra space for Wood. Bassett even chased down a loose ball and tried her hand at defence up at the transverse line.

After a run of five unanswered goals, Silver Ferns coach, Noeline Taurua, injected centre court dynamo, Sam Sinclair, in at wing defence. The move didn’t have any impact on the Diamond’s attack though with Liz Watson getting away from her or finding front space easily.

Photo: Simon Leonard

The Silver Ferns were given plenty of opportunities to bring the scores back to within range, but the Diamond’s intense arms over pressure and their dogged hunger for the ball snuffed their chances.

Bruce’s hold over the shot caused held balls. Simpson’s uncanny ability to pickpocket on circle edge stopped the feeds. And even Moloney had a pickup in the Silver Fern’s attacking third.

But it wasn’t all bad for the Silver Ferns. Crampton found her feeding range and fired in many bullet passes to Folau. Veteran Laura Langman was also doing the bulk of the work in ensuring the connections in attack were there. Her one-two with Folau was a highlight for the quarter.

 

Photo: Simon Leonard

Young Silver Fern shooter, Aliyah Dunn, began to look less comfortable as the quarter went on. The attention being paid to her by Bruce caused Dunn to stand still or baulk on the hard passes. This allowed Bruce to get around her or hold backspace and wait for the ball to sail over the baseline.

Eventually, Dunn was given a reprieve when Maia Wilson was introduced to the game in her place. But, Bruce quickly let Wilson know that she didn’t care who she matched up with when she swatted the ball away from Wilson before she could get a touch.
The Diamond’s defence was so tenacious during the second quarter that the measly six goals the Silver Ferns scored was their lowest quarter score in nine-years.

Things did not improve much for the Silver Ferns in the third term, even though Diamond’s coach, Lisa Alexander, changed the entire attacking line-up.

The injection of Gretel Tippett and Kelsey Browne brought next level speed to the Diamond’s first and second phase play. This left the Silver Ferns’ defenders’ head spinning.

Tippett’s strength in defence also helped the Diamond’s on the Silver Fern’s centre. By simply running with Katrina Grant, and with no added hands-over pressure, Tippett forced Langman to misfire the centre pass which gave the Diamond’s the first turnover of the third term.

Tippett and Caitlin Thwaites were a far more active shooting combination. Their constant movement allowed them to work the ball into whatever position they liked. They were also the most accurate shooters on the court, with both shooting at 100% for the half.

As the Diamond’s lead kept growing, the Silver Ferns’ defence began to play with desperation. Sinclair began throwing herself at any ball, causing her to spend a lot of time out of play. Grant and Jane Watson were also guilty of making late charges for the ball.

Photo: Simon Leonard

The Diamond’s attack line grew in confidence the longer the quarter wore on. They launched the ball across the court without hesitation, and the feeders were so assured in their shooters that they were comfortable to put the ball up knowing that someone would be there to pull it in.

Tippett added some extra spice by including a fade-away shot and a layup to her gameday bag of tricks.

By contrast, the Silver Ferns began to play hesitant netball. They held on to the ball for a fraction too long which allowed the Diamond’s to read the passes and gain intercepts and pickups.

The only player of the Silver Ferns’ attack who was playing with urgency was Langman. Unfortunately, her urgency saw her make critical mistakes such as not being wholly within the centre circle for a restart.

By the end of the third quarter, the Diamonds were out to a 17-goal lead, so Lisa Alexander took an opportunity to give Emily Mannix some crucial game experience at the start of the fourth. Noeline Taurua also tinkered with her line-up by introducing Te Paea Selby-Rickit at goal attack and shifting Folau to goal shooter.

Photo: Simon Leonard

The Diamonds began the term with the same gusto. Mannix muscled up to Folau on first ball contest and won a turnover which would have given her immense confidence. But from there, the Silver Ferns exploited her inexperience.

Mannix’s floating style of defence was ineffective against Folau who will use any inch of space given to her. Because she was given the room, she was easily able to find space directly under the post.

Liz Watson was also another player guilty of giving away possession in the final term. She was one of two players in the Australian side who had been not rested throughout the game, and her fatigue was showing.

She began to stand still awaiting the ball to come to her. Grant saw this and floated around Watson waiting for a chance to pounce. She didn’t have to wait long as she easily incepted a pass on its way to Watson within the first three minutes of the term.
This happened three times to Watson in the final term, with Sinclair gaining an intercept and a pickup off Watson as well. Eventually, she was substituted with Moloney.

During the substitution Grant and goalkeeper, Sulu Fitzpatrick were able to conspire a way to get high over Thwaite’s shot: the chairlift. It was a good idea but poorly executed as Grant was up and down before Thwaites had released the ball.

Moloney’s reintroduction to the game gave new life to the Diamonds, and the score-flow returned to parity. But, by this time the Silver Ferns had done enough to secure a quarter win.

Both teams now travel to Townsville to face off again on Wednesday night in the second of four Constellation Cup matches.

 

Samsung Australian Diamonds 57 def New Zealand Silver Ferns 42
(10 – 10, 24 – 16, 44 – 27, 57 – 42)

 

Player of the Match: Liz Watson (Diamonds)
Crowd: 7,425 at Brisbane Entertainment Centre

 

Samsung Australian Diamonds
Bassett 17/21 81%
Wood 7/11 64%
Tippett 12/12 100%
Thwaites 21/21 100%
57/65 88%

New Zealand Silver Ferns
Folau 26/29 90%
Dunn 5/6 83%
Wilson 7/10% 70%
Selby-Rickit 4/6 67%
42/51 82%

 

Key Stats
Intercepts:
Katrina Grant (Silver Ferns) 4
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 3
April Brandley (Diamonds) 2
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 2
Jo Weston (Diamonds) 2

Goal Assists:
Liz Watson (Diamonds) 17
Kelsey Browne (Diamonds) 14
Gina Crampton (Silver Ferns) 12

Penalties (total):
Katrina Grant (Silver Ferns) 14
Jane Watson (Silver Ferns) 12
Courtney Bruce (Diamonds) 9

General Play Turnovers:
Maria Folau (Silver Ferns) 8
Gina Crampton (Silver Ferns) 6
Laura Langman (Silver Ferns) 6
Gabi Simpson (Diamonds) 5

 

Lineups
Samsung Australian Diamonds
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Jo Weston
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q3 GS Caitlin Thwaites, GA Gretel Tippett, WA Kelsey Browne, WD April Brandley; Q4 GK Emily Mannix, C Kate Moloney

New Zealand Silver Ferns
GS Aaliyah Dunn
GA Maria Folau
WA Gina Crampton
C Laura Langman
WD Michaela Sokolich-Beatson
GD Katrina Grant
GK Jane Watson
Changes: Q2 WD Samantha Sinclair, GS Maia Wilson, Q3 GK Sulu Fitzpatrick, Q4 GS Maria Folau, GA Te Paea Shelby-Rickit

Umpires: Kate Stephenson, Anso Kemp

 

What they said
Noelene Taurua, Coach New Zealand Silver Ferns
What went wrong for the Silver Ferns in the second and third quarters?
“Look, I was happy with the first and our ability to maintain momentum. Then thought that we had ball in hand and either we weren’t able to execute the pass and put each other under pressure. Or, we weren’t able to put the ball through the hoop. I think maybe in that first two minutes there as five goals that the Diamonds got on top of us, and then we were in chase mode, and they pulled us apart in our defence end. We didn’t stay to what we wanted to do. We got caught up with the chase. And, in our attack end when we did have ball in hand it was the little errors that cost us in the turnover. And any side, like the Diamonds or any quality opposition, you can’t do that.”

Even though you lost today, do you still think it is another step forward in the fight back for New Zealand?
“It is quite hard to be honest, in reality, when you look at the scoreboard today. It was definitely an uppercut. But, there were some real positives today, and we just need to keep the faith in what we are doing and once again the little things that we need to be able to execute and deliver. There are clear areas when we are under the pressure as to what we need to do. We do it sporadically and inconsistently. But when do them we are very successful. So, the positives are you can only keep getting slapped and ask when are we going to learn? And that is what it is all about. But, I don’t come away from this game – and I know this sounds weird – I don’t come away that bad. I know what the scoreboard says. But we have been working really hard, and I can see some improvements in some of the players. We aren’t going to save the world over three or four weeks, but we are heading in the right direction.”

Is fixing those inconsistencies an easy job over this series?
“There are a few different variables needed for us to be consistent. Some of the stuff we won’t be able to do over Constellation Cup and will need to be fixed over the offseason, such as conditioning and being able to take the battle physically. So, those things are going to have to wait. But, the understanding and knowing how to execute our strategy, knowing that the opposition is going to do anything to combat us, is what it is all about.”

How pleased are you that your side was able to win that last quarter after the rough second and third quarters?
“That is always positive. Realistically though, the Diamonds made a change. It is always quite good to know that there is a little bit of heart even though the game was gone. Out of that, it was quite interesting to see Maria (Folau) and Te Paea (Selby-Rickit) in that combination (Folau GS / Selby-Rickit GA). I hadn’t seen that before, and I think it has presented another opportunity for us and another possible combination for us.”

Speaking of your shooters, is it safe to say that you are still looking for that perfect combination?
“Yeah I am. I am looking for people who, one, can do the job and present to the ball under huge pressure and, two, be able to put the ball through the hoop. I haven’t found that combination or unit yet. Even though some of the players may be a bit disappointed, I am really wrapped that we have been able to get them out on court. They have been able to see where their starting point is and what they are able to do and what they need to work on in the offseason or for the duration of the series. And, the only way they are going to learn is if they are out there. It is a hard pill to swallow but that is what performance is all about.”

You played a different style of attacking game today. Was that your strategy?
“We are changing out style a wee bit and playing that shorter game which we aren’t used to. It is a work in progress. It is a learning curve. We have a couple of days to get better and are really looking forward to Townsville.”

 

Laura Langman, New Zealand Silver Ferns
What do you feel like you have to improve ahead of Wednesday’s match?
“I think what was really good was that straight after the game all of us identified where we went wrong and the soft errors that we were doing. I was guilty of a number today, and it just isn’t good enough at international standard. We need to sort that out and that will put us in the fight because when they happen, it pretty much is one goal followed by a centre pass and that is two. If everyone is going four or five – and I was doing a lot – that is costly.”

When those errors do creep up, how hard is it to stick to the game plan and not get caught up in the chase?
“We just go back to our roles, to be honest. You know, what’s my job? To get the centre pass away. That’s the aim of the game. They want to disrupt our flow, and we need to just keep working to get ourselves into conditions that we excel at. So, the best test for us is to play against the best in the world, and the Diamonds are the best.”

 

Caitlin Bassett, Samsung Australian Diamonds
What did Lisa (Alexander) say at quarter time? Because it clearly worked.
“Nothing too much. It was more that the first quarter was we were feeling each other out, and that always happens in a match. The physicality to start off with, and the back and forth of the ball, and the amazing defence was us going through the motions. We needed to get that first quarter out of the way and reset and go ahead. Not that we want to wait a quarter for that to happen every time. It was hard netball to play in the first quarter, that’s for sure.”

Your battle with the Silver Ferns’ defence was enthralling. What did you make of it?
“I think the body on body is the standard of international netball. I know I have to bring that physicality and that strength in the circle every time because it is what it is and the contesting is now allowed. So, there were some good tussles, and I know that it is important for me to get my arms out and up and take that ball strongly and rip it in. Otherwise, if it left up there, it is anyone’s ball.”

How pleased were you with the flow in attack?
“I think the way our midcourt brings the ball down, and Steph (Wood) in the goal attack role helps me a lot. She draws a defender off me, or she takes the space and puts the ball up herself. It is really handy and I think when things opened up for us it was because of our connection and the attack speed in bringing the ball down. In that one on one situation, I am always really happy to get on the body and take that strong ball. We created those situations.”

Your defence game has improved is that something you have worked on?
“Definitely. I may be an old dog, but I can always learn new tricks. There are always ways for me to improve. My stats and goals before the game aren’t just about shooting percentages and volume now. It is about deflections, pickups and goal assists. That is definitely something hadn’t been around for the last couple of years. I am learning more and pushing myself because I need to help the team defensively because it is a seven-player game.”

 

Liz Watson, Samsung Australian Diamonds
Is it hard to reset your strategy, like you did ahead of the second quarter?
“Definitely. I think also we have that confidence and belief in the group that if we grind it out that we will get the result in the end. As much as you would love to win every quarter sometimes, it doesn’t happen. But, to know that we had the reassurance and belief from the coaches that we can grind this out, and knowing that we are fit enough and have the structures and if we stick to that we will get there in the end.”

 

Lisa Alexander, Coach Samsung Australian Diamonds
What did you like about the game?
“It is always enjoyable to get everybody out on court and still get a substantial win. Also, from a coaching perspective, there is stuff to work on as well, with the draw in the first quarter. It was quite an outer-layer of a quarter, I have never seen anything like it before. So, to settle and get ourselves over the stun in the first part of the first quarter and to get ourselves into a commanding position is terrific. Then to change it up against at half-time and still put our foot down is pleasing. Our last quarter was disappointing. We didn’t take our chances. We created turnovers and just didn’t have that real ruthless use of patience to get that ball through the hoop. We just did a few too many piff balls. Overall, I am pleased with how they connected well as a team, talked to each other and kept their focus even through the Silver Fern’s changes.”

What was it about the first quarter that stunned you?
“I just think it was one of those games where no one, from either team, could find much space. You really have to applaud both teams in the way they went about their defence.”

Do you feel like you took another step ahead on what you did in the Quad Series?
“Yes, I do. I think there was real confidence out there. We knew what our plan was going to be and they executed pretty well for a great majority of the game. But there is always things we can work on.”

Do you expect the margin to be that large?
“I think when we are playing at our best it can be. But you can never underestimate what the silver Ferns will bring. So, you don’t want to take things for granted either. Sometimes, you just have to grind things out. Sometimes there are calls that go various different ways that you just have to put up with an adapt to.”

How pleased were you with Emily Mannix’s performance?
“I think she did some really good stuff out there. She was a bit nervous so we will make sure we have a chat to her about managing her nerves. She has that great height and an uncanny ability to get the ball with sticky hands. She caused a turnover within the first thirty seconds on court, and that is what we want her to do. She needs to keep backing herself, and we will keep working with her at training to do that. She is different to Courtney (Bruce) and has a different body shape. She has an ability to envelop a shooter. Once we get her operating at her best, she will be pushing to get on court.”

Was always your strategy to bring her on, or was it because you knew you had the game in hand?
“We were always planning to get most of our team out today. They are all performing well at training, and we need to test out these combinations for the future. So it was important to get them out. It is a coach’s dream to get all twelve players out on court and have a win. So I am pleased with it. It doesn’t matter if you are coaching juniors or the Diamonds, if you can get them out there, that is very, very satisfying.”

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