Netball: Silver Ferns never tire of the old enemy

By David Leggat

Irene van Dyk of the Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty Images
Irene van Dyk of the Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty Images

NEW DELHI - Silver Ferns captain Casey Williams seemed slightly bemused by the question.

"Don't you ever get sick of playing Australia," asked an Australian accent.

Which was like asking a carnivore if he's fed up with medium-rare ribeye.

"You never get sick of that challenge," the top-notch defender replied.

"It's the excitement, the skill level, the intensity on court. The girls are so competitive and here to do a job."

In a nutshell, that sums up what it will all be about when the transtasman rivals square off for the Commonwealth Games gold tonight. Recent history makes a forceful case that there will be precious little between them.

This is a sport where four teams are a street ahead of the rest - and two of those four are a notch better than the other two - and given the frequency with which they face each other, the New Zealand and Australian players will just about be on each other's Christmas card lists.

Just about.

The likes of sharp-eyed goal shoot Sharelle McMahon and centre Natalie von Bertouch are as familiar faces to New Zealand fans as Williams, Irene van Dyk and Laura Langman.

Since New Zealand beat Australia 60-55 to win the gold in Melbourne four years ago they have met 22 times, Australia winning 14.

These teams know each other's game intimately. There will be few surprises.

Australia will go in confident. Again, no surprises there.

"Our whole game works when we are really attacking a lot and taking on players," the classy von Bertouch said yesterday. "When we sit back and don't take all our leads we don't do so well, so it's up to us. No matter how the game starts, we know we've got the game and when we turn it on we can win."

Seven of the New Zealand 12 were in the winning squad in Melbourne. Three played the whole final - van Dyk, Langman and Temepara George. Williams and Anna Scarlett had half a game each. Maria Tutaia and Leana de Bruin were on the bench.

Five Australians remain from 2006 and while they might not have the formidable look of combinations from earlier in the decade, they are likely to start slight favourites.

For Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken it's all about execution.

"Do it well for 60 minutes and we'll come out on the right side of the ledger," she said. "This is what we came for and worked so hard for."

Her only difficult selection issue is at goal keep. The other six starters pick themselves - van Dyk, Tutaia up front, George, Langman and Joline Henry through the mid-court, with Williams' defensive partner to come from de Bruin, Scarlett or Katrina Grant.

It is the last event of the Games in which New Zealand will medal. Advance Australia Fair has been heard often enough these last 10 days.

The odds slightly favour hearing it one more time. But only slightly.

- NZ Herald

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