Los­ing year con­firmed for Ferns

The Southland Times - - Sport - Bren­don Egan bren­don.egan@stuff.co.nz

A Con­stel­la­tion Cup clean sweep would be the ex­cla­ma­tion point on one of the darkest years in Sil­ver Ferns his­tory.

The Ferns are in a 2-0 hole against Aus­tralia in the an­nual trans-Tas­man series af­ter drop­ping both games across the ditch.

They will be des­per­ate to fin­ish a mis­er­able 2018 on a pos­i­tive note in the fi­nal two games in Hamil­ton to­mor­row and Welling­ton (Thurs­day) with the Ferns al­ready as­sured of their first cal­en­dar year with more losses than wins since 2009.

While few ex­pected the re­build­ing Ferns to cap­ture the Con­stel­la­tion Cup for the first time since 2012, a 4-0 series white­wash to Aus­tralia would be a tough start to Noe­line Tau­rua’s coach­ing ten­ure.

This sea­son has been a night­mare for New Zealand fol­low­ing April’s dire show­ing at the Com­mon­wealth Games, where they fin­ished fourth and failed to medal for the first time. That ul­ti­mately cost for­mer coach Ja­nine Southby her job, com­bined with a damn­ing in­de­pen­dent re­view into the Ferns’ free fall.

New Zealand are guar­an­teed to chalk up their first year with more losses than wins since 2009, when they lost six of 11 games, in­clud­ing two to the World Seven. The fol­low­ing year, they re­bounded to cap­ture gold at the Com­mon­wealth Games in Delhi.

In 1996, the Ferns also had a poor year, los­ing four of seven games.

Last year un­der Southby, the Ferns had an eight win-seven loss record, padded out by two wins over min­nows Wales.

With two tests left to play this year, they have an em­bar­rass­ing seven win-12 loss record. That in­cludes a first loss to Malawi dur­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games and three de­feats to Ja­maica. The Ferns had only lost twice pre­vi­ously to the Sunshine Girls prior to this year.

Bring­ing re­spectabil­ity back to the Ferns won’t be a quick fix and Tau­rua and her new-look side, which in­cludes the re­turn­ing Laura Lang­man and Casey Kopua, who is re­cov­er­ing from a foot in­jury, de­serve a grace pe­riod.

Tau­rua took over from Southby in late Au­gust and is only in her sec­ond series with the team af­ter tak­ing charge in the Septem­ber Quad Series.

She has a mighty task ahead to re­build the bro­ken Ferns with July’s World Cup in Liver­pool the mea­sur­ing stick to see how far she has im­proved the side and de­vel­oped com­bi­na­tions and unity.

The Ferns showed patches of prom­ise in the first two Con­stel­la­tion Cup matches, los­ing the opener 57-42 in Bris­bane on Sun­day. They were much im­proved in Wednesday’s sec­ond test in Townsville, trail­ing by one goal early in the fi­nal quar­ter (43-42) be­fore an 8-0 Aus­tralian run helped them pre­vail 56-47.

Tau­rua said beat­ing the Di­a­monds would be huge for the squad with sev­eral younger mem­bers hav­ing never tasted vic­tory over Aus­tralia at se­nior level.

A win would pro­vide ev­i­dence they were track­ing in the right di­rec­tion ahead of the World Cup and re­ward their com­mit­ment and hard slog at train­ing.

‘‘It would be fan­tas­tic for us to get a win when we’re on home soil, but also once again we need to keep chip­ping along and pro­gress­ing and im­prov­ing,’’ Tau­rua said.

‘‘Equally, where we’re cur­rently sit­ting in the big­ger scheme of things with the World Cup be­ing in July of next year, that’s a must.’’

Aus­tralia have a fine re­cent record against the Ferns, win­ning the past nine matches dat­ing back to Septem­ber 3 last year when New Zealand pulled off a 57-47 sur­prise in In­ver­cargill.

The Di­a­monds are one win away from equalling their long­est win­ning streak (10 games) against the Ferns achieved be­tween 1995 and 1998.

Tau­rua said they were de­ter­mined to fin­ish a for­get­table year on a pos­i­tive note, lead­ing into a crit­i­cal 2019 cam­paign.

New Zealand will only get one more crack against Aus­tralia in Jan­uary’s North­ern Quad Series be­fore the World Cup, so any vic­tory over the Di­a­monds is price­less for self be­lief.

‘‘The ex­pec­ta­tion is we need to be bet­ter and we need to present some­thing out there we can be proud of and the New Zealand gen­eral pub­lic can be proud of as well. [Wednesday was] a first step and a closer step than what we were in Bris­bane.’’

De­jected Sil­ver Ferns leave the court af­ter los­ing their bronze medal match against Ja­maica at the Com­mon­wealth Games on the Gold Coast. New Zealand will fin­ish with a los­ing record in a cal­en­dar year for the first time since 2009. MICHAEL DODGE/GETTY IM­AGES

Aus­tralia cap­tain Caitlin Bas­sett, left, and Gre­tel Tip­pett cel­e­brate their Con­stel­la­tion Cup test win over the Sil­ver Ferns in Townsville on Wednesday. GETTY IM­AGES

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