Ferns still work in progress,
Inconsistency, errors mar start of netballers’ comeback to the top
Once again, not nearly good enough from the Silver Ferns. Their quest to turn the page in 2019 displayed early signs of promise. At this level, though, meritorious ultimately counts for little.
For the first half of this match at least, the Ferns went toe to toe with England in Liverpool to open the northern Quad Series.
As the contest wore on, though, the experienced hosts comfortably pulled away; their dominant 54-41 victory confirming their favouritism to claim this tournament for the first time.
Noeline Taurua used all 12 squad members and handed test debuts to defender Erena Mikaere, who replaced Jane Watson in the third quarter, and 21-year-old midcourter Kimiora Poi, who was injected just before half time.
But having set a target of two wins from three in this series, which comes six months out from the Netball World Cup at this same venue, much work remains for Taurua over the next six days before facing Australia in London.
That is now a must-win scenario to suggest genuine progress is being made.
As it stands, this result equalled New Zealand’s worst defeat to England — Taurua’s first match at the helm in Auckland last September.
One win from the last six tests is poor by anyone’s standards.
But, like anything, context is important.
England have now won four-straight matches against the Ferns and six of the past nine. They are also, of course, Commonwealth Games champions, having stunned Australia on the Gold Coast last year.
And in front of a boisterous home crowd, they started with intent to prove that result was no fluke.
The Ferns, by comparison began poorly, conceding the first three goals.
The experienced Serena Guthrie owned the midcourt, giving Sam Sinclair, starting at centre, a difficult time.
The Ferns regrouped to establish attacking fluidity but England did enough to hold a 13-12 first quarter advantage.
Casey Kopua’s return, the former skipper playing her first international since 2015 after coming out of retirement, brought rewards in combination with Jane Watson.
England’s reunited shooting duo, Helen Housby and Jo Harten, are one of the best in the world yet the Ferns pair forced England back, applied pressure and extracted several errors.
With Laura Langman driving through court from wing defence, Ameliaranne Ekenasio punching out of the circle and Whitney Souness looping around, the Ferns’ attack showed patience but frustrating, erratic moments and indecision were still too evident.
Too often Sinclair proved the weak link. Thus she was pulled just before half time, with Poi taking her place.
At half time, England maintained their one-goal lead.
There after it seemed every time the Ferns threatened individual errors or missed connections prevailed. The final quarter but one example; defender Karin Burger binned for aggressive contact.
The third quarter also proved costly as the Ferns slipped 10 goals behind.
The shooting end, Maria Folau (29/32) and Ekenasio (12/13), produced high percentages but did not receive enough quality ball.
Plenty, then, for Taurua to ponder. In the other half of this double header, Australia got off to a shaky start with their final 62-45 win over South Africa proving flattering.
Australian coach Lisa Alexander’s initial experimental line-up was exposed early as Norma Plummer’s South Africa applied early pressure and shot out to a surprise five-goal lead at the firstquarter mark.
That forced Alexander to inject her more experienced figures, allowing Australia to gradually pull away.
South Africa will take heart, though, this performance a vast improvement on the 24-goal defeat the last time these teams met.
For Australia, defending world champions, Bassett’s absence was clear and South Africa shooter Lenize Potgieter had ample room to move for much of the match.
Karin Burger goes shoulder to shoulder with England’s Helen Housby.
Casey Kopua returned to international netball in yesterday’s loss.