In their opening game of the 2019 Netball World Cup, the Diamonds threw down a mighty gauntlet to the other 15 teams in the competition.

Clinical from the start, suffocating in defence and precise in attack, the Australian’s showed few signs of nerves. Their through court defence was a feature of the match, forcing Northern Ireland into numerous errors.

Sarah Klau was awarded the start at goal keeper, coach Lisa Alexander feeling it essential to build her debutant’s confidence by throwing her straight into the action. Klau rewarded the faith, returning four intercepts and five deflections in her thirty minutes on court. Jo Weston was also impressive, producing three intercepts and four deflections.

At the opposite end of the court, the Northern Ireland defenders were at a 13cm height disadvantage against Caitlin Bassett, and Australia made the most of it. Using triangular play around the circle, the Diamonds were feeding it in from a range of angles. It was a strong captain’s game from Bassett, who showed no signs of the concussion that kept her out of recent matches. She was well supported by Stephanie Wood, whose vision easily found her captain under the post.

While Fionnuala Toner held Kelsey Browne well at the centre pass, the nimble wing attack was able to slip her bonds to be effective around the circle. Toner was later moved into goal defence, and ended the match with three intercepts and two deflections to be Northern Ireland’s best.

In the second half Australia made wholesale changes with only Browne and Price retaining their starting positions. The changes took a little while to settle, with some hesitation on passing allowing Northern Ireland to pick off a few intercepts.

Australia’s new shooting circle of Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett was a more mobile option, the change in personnel making it difficult for the Northern Ireland defenders to adjust. Tippett was particularly controlled, playing a team game with little of the individual flair that Australians are used to seeing.

 

Gretel Tippett debuts at the Netball World Cup. Image Danny Dalton

 

Northern Ireland captain Caroline O’Hanlon is a crucial part of their lineup as she links attack and defence, feeds the circle and picks off key intercepts. In the third term she was felled by a clumsy challenge from wing defence Jamie-Lee Price, with the sound of her head hitting the floor audible over the noisy Zimbabwean crowd. The concussed O’Hanlon took no further part in the match, and will be assessed tomorrow to see if she’s fit to play.

In her absence, and with Toner moved to goal defence, Northern Ireland’s midcourt struggled to stem Australia’s flow down court. The Diamonds passed long, and often cross court, and while it was beautiful to watch, it’s a style of play that will need to be reined in against more highly ranked opponents.

Emma Magee was having a tough day at the office, shooting just 6 goals at 37% while in goal attack, and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Ciara Crosbie, who returned zero from two in her fifteen minutes. The bulk of the shooting load fell onto goal shooter Shaunagh Craig’s shoulders. Her return of 18 from 22 was respectable, but under immense pressure she was forced into a game high 11 turnovers.

Liz Watson was comfortable in both centre and wing attack for Australia, although will need to reduce her turnover count – nine in three quarters – to be more effective as the tournament wears on.

Australia held Northern Ireland to just 24 goals for the game, while slotting in 88 of their own. It was a strong opening punch from the Diamonds, but too early to tell if they’ll be able to deliver a knock out blow when it counts.

 

Liz Watson in action. Image Danny Dalton

 

Australia defeated Northern Ireland 88 -24

 

TEAMS

Australia: Caitlin Bassett GS, Steph Wood GA, Kelsey Browne WA, Liz Watson C, Jamie-Lee Price WD, Jo Weston GD, Sarah Klau GK

Bench: Courtney Bruce, April Brandley, Paige Hadley, Gretel Tippett, Caitlin Thwaites

Coach: Lisa Alexander

Changes:

Q3: Bruce GK, Brandley GD, Hadley C, Tippett GA, Thwaites GS

Q4: Weston WD, Watson WA

 

Northern Ireland: Shanaugh Craig GS, Emma Magee GA, Lisa McCaffrey WA, Caroline O’Hanlon C, Fionnuala Toner WD, Michelle Magee GD, Gemma Lawlor GK.

Bench: Noleen Armstrong, Niamh Cooper, Ciara Crosbie, Michelle Drayne, Neamh Woods.

Coach: Dan Ryan

Changes:

Q1: Woods WA

Q3: Cooper WD, Toner GD, Woods to C (injury), McCaffrey to WA

Q4: Drayne WA, Crosbie GA

 

Umpires:  Gareth Fowler and Jacqui Mizon

 

SHOOTING STATISTICS

Australia: 88/92 (96%)

Caitlin Bassett 33/34 (97%), Caitlin Thwaites 25/26 (96%), Gretel Tippett 18/19 (95%), Stephanie Wood 12/13 (92%)

Northern Ireland: 24/40 (60%)

Shanaugh Craig 18/22 (82%), Emma Magee 6/16 (37%), Ciara Crosbie 0/2 (0%)

 

Injuries:

Caroline O’Hanlon: concussion in quarter 3.

 

Courtney Bruce and April Letton put enormous pressure over the shot. Image Danny Dalton

 

WHAT THEY SAID AFTER THE GAME:

Lisa Alexander (coach, Australia)

“You’re always a bit nervous that first game, you don’t know if the training form is going to go into the first game with all the distractions.”

How difficult is it playing in a noisy stadium: “It’s a matter of getting our hand signals right, I think our communication was a bit difficult today. So we’ll make sure we get our body language and our hand signals right for our calls to changes of structures and what we’re doing.”

It is harder in this World Cup to manage the extra media attention? “Probably yes, because we’re in the city and staying quite close, there’s lots of fans around, that’s going to be the thing we’ll need to manage our time away. We might have to get in the car and find a little spot to sneak off to.”

Sarah Klau (goal keeper, Australia): For content from Sarah Klau, please go to the Netball Scoop podcast tomorrow.

Dan Ryan (coach, Northern Ireland):

“There’s been a lot of change in the Northern Ireland team from the Commonwealth Games to now, and we had a lot of players out there who’d never played against the Australian Diamonds at senior level before. They’ve never played together in more than four test matches in the build up. Very new, very different.”

“The biggest thing we wanted to take out of today was the learnings, the players who don’t get the opportunity to play against players of that calibre, professional athletes. To see what they could take out of it, and what they could learn about themselves in the game. If they could take a few learnings today we’d be heading in the right direction.”

“We produced some nice passages of play when we let the ball go, we opened up spaces, things we’d been working on…When you don’t have that experience to withstand the onslaught it’s a little bit tougher.”

 

 

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