Netball: Untroubled Ferns dispose of minnows (+photos)

By Dylan Cleaver

WORLD CHAMPS

New Zealand 85
Malawi 26

Any doubts about the readiness of the most featured foot in New Zealand netball were expunged after centre Laura Langman came through a full game against Malawi.

The 21-year-old midcourter fractured her left foot in the lead-up to the world champs which began in west Auckland last night and was given until the 11th-hour to prove her fitness.

Claims yesterday by coach Ruth Aitken that she would have to fight her way back into the team turned out to be a none-too-elaborate smokescreen as Langman not only started but played a full match at centre.

It was hard to gauge her form, given the Ferns were never seriously challenged by the Africans but a friendly pat on the back from a beaming Aitken after the game clearly indicated the coach was pleased to have her young midcourter back.

Despite the kerfuffle regarding Langman's fitness, captain Adine Wilson appeared in little doubt she would be ready.

"She's been great," Wilson said. "She was always going to be fine. She's a tough little thing. it was just awesome to see her out there."

Wilson was pleased with their start.

"It's nice to start it like this with a 50-odd goal win," she said. "For us it was about getting that confidence to let the ball go."

As expected, the Silver Ferns enjoyed a largely trouble-free romp against the minnows

Jodi Te Huna's selection to start at goal attack ahead of Maria Tutaia might give some insight into Aitken's thinking ahead of the two big games at the end of the week, though she'd be too canny to admit as much yet.

While Tutaia has buckets of flair, her often flighty, turn-and-shoot style does not necessarily complement Irene van Dyk's game. Te Huna appeals as the safer option though Tutaia, who entered the game in the second half, will undoubtedly get plenty of time to press her claims as the minnows are cast aside during the week.

For all van Dyk's commendable bravado, it's unlikely she has enjoyed becoming the most scrutinised netballer in the country this year after an almost unparalleled career of highs.

Frankly, this game told us diddly-squat as to whether the "tweaks" she's made to her game to make her an easier target for her midcourters to hit have been effective.

Malawi were never going to be anything other than glorified training opposition but even still, they might have been expected to put up a better showing after a creditable 39-67 loss to the Ferns at last year's Commonwealth Games.

At that tournament, Malawi displayed a quirky style of keep-ball that won them some admirers. Often they would pass back to ensure they retained possession but there was scant evidence of treasuring the ball last night.

From their opening possession, they lobbed into the attacking circle and Casey Williams snapped it up, triggering a 7-0 opening run.

Malawi goal attack Mary Waya finally got the Africans off the mark in the fourth minute but goals remained a precious commodity.

The Ferns were ahead 23-5 at quarter time, despite having to shake off some rust. If the running score was anything to go by, they were slightly less effective in the second quarter, scoring 22 goals while the hapless Malawians could manage just another quintet.

Aitken rang the changes at halftime. Leana de Bruin replaced the impressive Williams, Julie Seymour came on at wing defence and Tutaia replaced Te Huna.

The changes disrupted the Ferns rhythm and seemed to give Malawi some confidence. Tutaia took a while to get in sync with her teammates and Waya and her goal shoot, Linda Magombo, had more joy.

The 18-9 return for third quarter would have impressed few, including Aitken and her assistant Leigh Gibbs.

Maree Bowden came on for Wilson at the final change, and Te Huna re-entered the fray, this time at goal shoot as van Dyk took a rest.

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