Netball: Ferns up the tempo for easy win over Wales

By Suzanne McFadden

Sheryl Scanlan may have played her way back into New Zealand's frontline seven in her most potent role at goal defence.

Scanlan, one test away from 50 international caps, has been coach Ruth Aitken's first choice in the Silver Ferns' circle defence, partnering keeper Casey Williams for both games against weaker opposition at these world championships. Her role in yesterday's blistering 86-24 fire attack on the hapless Welsh side, playing with her famous up-court vision and intuition for loose ball, only reinforced her selection.

It's been a kind of "welcome home" for Scanlan, who played most of her early international netball at goal defence - the bane of Australian goal attack Sharelle McMahon for years - but found herself returning at wing defence in July, after the birth of her first child.

"I'm loving playing goal defence. I'm so much more comfortable there, though I'm definitely prepared to play wing defence as well," Scanlan said.

"The way I'm linking in with Casey is amazing. She's young but she's a tower of strength."

As always, Aitken would not be drawn on whether she has finalised her front line for the business end of the tournament, beginning Thursday, but she acknowledged Scanlan's contribution at goal defence had played a major role in yesterday's win.

"Whether she plays there exclusively remains to be seen," she said. "But she's invaluable there - Miss Reliability."

The Ferns' starting seven yesterday could arguably be their best, and was definitely their most effective against Wales. The first 10 minutes was a blinding stream of pace and accuracy, scoring 11 consecutive goals before the Welsh got one.

Jodi Te Huna's confidence spiked at goal attack alongside Irene van Dyk in the first half, when the Ferns constructed a 46-15 lead. In the final quarter, switching to goal shoot in partnership with teenager Paula Griffin, she was almost perfect under the hoop.

Midcourt, Adine Wilson, Laura Langman and Julie Seymour were hunting every ball on defence and driving hard on attack.

From the outset, New Zealand's defence through court was invasive. The Welsh never got near their goal until three minutes had gone, and even then Williams wound in an intercept under the post, with Scanlan snaffling the ball on the next Wales centre pass.

"The first five minutes the flow through court was awesome. The speed through court was something we wanted to work on," Scanlan said. "We now have to continue that, and eliminate our mistakes."

The Welsh were reduced to a red blur, chasing every Ferns assault, but captain and defender Billy Pritchard grabbed the odd intercept and shooter Rebecca James potted some sublime long-distance shots to remind the Ferns it wasn't all one-way traffic.

Aitken acknowledged she may have made a few too many changes at halftime, benching van Dyk (95 per cent accuracy) for Maria Tutaia, introducing Maree Bowden at centre, Joline Henry at wing defence and Leana de Bruin at goal defence.

The flow slowed noticeably and Tutaia stuttered with her handling.

But the final-quarter reshuffle sped it up a fraction, Griffin excelling in her second test pushing her place as back-up to Van Dyk and Te Huna.

"To see a young Paula Griffin come on and be creative, assertive and play with confidence is great," said Ferns assistant coach Leigh Gibbs. "It's not easy to come into the pace of a game like that."

Today's focus against the winless Botswana side, down to their last shooting combination through injury, is to maintain control and pace against a more unorthodox side.

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