Netball: Ice queen cracks a smile as she awaits final countdown

By Maggie McNaughton

She's the woman Silver Ferns fans love to hate. And now her team are the only thing standing between New Zealand and a much-longed-for world title to take the sting out of a woeful sporting year.

Norma Plummer, who famously started off her career as Australian netball coach by describing the Silver Ferns as "a bunch of scrubbers", was last night at her stony-faced best as she watched her side slide into the world championship final with a victory over England.

After the 51-33 semifinal win over England, Plummer had a warning: "Don't underestimate an Aussie. We've worked really hard for this and we can back it up."

During the warm-up, the ice queen stood with her arms crossed and remained expressionless. She occasionally spoke to some of the players and cracked a faint smile while addressing one of them.

She remained cool, steady and focused as the players ran on to the court to rapturous applause.

There was little change to her manner in the first quarter. But when Australia scored their first goal she shifted in her seat slightly.

If Silver Ferns shooter Irene van Dyk is the game's great grinner, Plummer, a former test captain and world champion, is its best snarler.

Her character-filled face occasionally gives up a smirk, but a bright, wide smile is not normally part of the repertoire.

Which is not to say she doesn't enjoy herself - she revels in the rivalry with New Zealand, and there's no doubting her passion for the game, which means she doesn't hold back.

When she took over as coach in 2004, after New Zealand's world title victory in Jamaica, she said: "I felt that New Zealand team were a bunch of scrubbers this year."

Australia captain Liz Ellis admits her boss is blunt.

"You get some cracker things from Plum, and you certainly can't fault her passion for this game," Ellis once said.

Last night she had her fans, though, and even won grudging respect from Kiwi spectators for her tough, no-nonsense manner.

Australian fan Sheree Darcy, 42, from Victoria, said: "Norma is a pretty cool customer. She comes across as a stern person but I think most Australians love her.

"Coaching an international side, you have to be pretty focused. Not too many male coaches laugh.

"In Australia 'scrubber' isn't offensive - it means down to earth. It's not rude."

Tahlia McMurtrie, 14, a Silver Ferns fan, said: "I think she's a bit harsh and cocky but she's doing a good job with the Aussies."

Tonight Plummer's team will be seeking to halt the Ferns' attempt to win back-to-back titles.

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