Netball: Aitken analytical after Ferns win (+photos)

By Cathy Walshe

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New Zealand netball coach Ruth Aitken has set some exacting standards for her team after the Silver Ferns began their world championship title defence against Malawi here last night.

Despite Malawi captain Peace Chawinga's pre-match optimism that her team's unorthodox style of play would stretch the New Zealanders, the Silver Ferns proved too strong in the air and too quick with the pass, running out 85-26 winners after leading 45-10 at halftime.

Aitken pronounced herself satisfied with her team's first-up effort but said there were a few areas which could do with improvement.

"I looked up and we were at 43 goals, and I was thinking `it's a little flat' ... But perhaps that was a bit hard. Coaches always want everything to be perfect," she said.

"We needed to let the ball go a little bit more - it was a little bit tentative. It looked like everybody wanted to do it really, really well and just hadn't quite settled into it."

Aitken also found plenty of positives from the one-sided match: Laura Langman came through her first full game since a left foot stress fracture put her world championship in doubt six weeks ago, Irene van Dyk shot 100 per cent for the three quarters she was on, and the midcourt links into the circle looked crisp and generally well-organised.

"For us, it was the first time we've played in front of an audience since July, so it was really important for us to get out and reconnect," Aitken said.

"We do still need to fine tune a few things in terms of just letting that ball go, and we also probably need to look at a bit more width to our game - I thought we got a bit narrow on attack at times."

Aitken was also happy with the work done by goal defence Sheryl Scanlan, who controlled play with assurance and provided real direction in linking with her midcourters.

"Sheryl really grew into it as the game went on. I thought she probably started a little bit quietly, but her driving through court was fantastic."

Aitken took the opportunity to give most of her squad a run, at halftime bringing on Leana de Bruin at goal keep for Casey Williams, Julie Seymour replacing wing defence Joline Henry, and Maria Tutaia for Te Huna at goal attack.

Midcourter Maree Bowden also got a run for the last quarter, and van Dyk was given the unaccustomed luxury of a rest on the bench for the final spell.

Having sunk all of her 42 attempts on goal, she afterwards admitted she was keen to go for the perfect match and complete the whole game without a miss.

"It was great to shoot 100, but it was only three quarters. I wanted four!" she said.

"Ruth had other plans obviously, to get more legs going, especially on the first night, to get those jitters over and done with."

Van Dyk said the occasional hesitancy meant there was still plenty of room for improvement when the Silver Ferns take the court in their second pool match against Wales tomorrow.

"You need persistence with things that didn't work - keep trying to get it right. There were times when we got too wide or too narr ow. There are just a few minor details we need to adjust."

Van Dyk said there were still plenty of positives to take out of the game.

"We needed something like this to build our confidence and make sure our links actually worked.

The plan was to play our own game at our own speed - to let the ball go, and then if we need to, bring it back with both longer and shorter passes.

"We need to be able to mix it up a little."

- NZPA

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