Netball: Young stars Ferns' focus

By Dana Johannsen

Natalie von Bertouch. Photo / Getty Images
Natalie von Bertouch. Photo / Getty Images

Eight years without a series win against Australia - that's a heck of a drought.

You would think the desperation in the Silver Ferns camp would be palpable heading in to the Constellation Cup series beginning in Melbourne today. But for New Zealand coach Waimarama Taumaunu, addressing their poor history against the Diamonds seems to be secondary to cultivating depth.

Now at the beginning of a new four-year cycle in international netball, the emphasis this season is on rebuilding, with particular focus on the midcourt following the retirement of Temepara George and loss, albeit temporarily, of Liana Leota (overseas) and Joline Henry (pregnant).

The need to set strong foundations for future pinnacle events is all very well, but the New Zealand sporting public have never had a strong tolerance for losses against Australia.

However, Taumaunu believes Kiwi fans will be patient given the Ferns have a massive experience deficit in the middle compared to the Australians.

"I think we have a wonderful public actually," said Taumaunu. "Having lost 188 caps, I suspect the netball public will be understanding [of a loss] but what they, or we, won't be understanding of, is a poor performance.

A great Australian performance and a performance by us that is as good as we can be on the day, I think they will accept."

While it sounds like the Ferns are lining up their excuses ahead of time, Taumaunu insists her side are still hungry for a win. "While we are taking a long-term view, certainly every time we step out on court we want to perform at our best and win."

The New Zealand side had their final pre-series hit-out yesterday against an invited group of local players, which included Karyn Howarth and Sarah Wall of this year's Melbourne Vixens.

Taumaunu said after a series of in-house training games, it was important to be tested against the Australian style.

Diamonds captain Natalie von Bertouch, who is yet to lead her country in a test on home soil, said her side will be looking to exploit the inexperience of newcomers Camilla Lees (WA) and Kayla Cullen (WD), who will likely be promoted straight to the Ferns' starting line-up.

But rather than targeting the youngsters directly, von Bertouch believes the key to exposing their weaknesses will be isolating the pair by shutting down Ferns' midcourt marshal Laura Langman.

"If you ask me, I would say Laura Langman has probably had the best year of her career. So I think we have to stop her if we are going to beat the Kiwis, she feeds Irene [van Dyk] impeccably well and we need to look at disrupting that."

Late yesterday, Australian coach Lisa Alexander confirmed her 12 for today's opening test, with Susan Pratley, Chelsea Pitman and Renae Hallinan the three players that won't be suiting up in Melbourne.

Alexander hopes to rotate her full squad of 15 across the series, which moves on to Auckland and Christchurch next week.

- Herald on Sunday

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