Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: T-birds beat Vixens in relentless slug fest

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Thunderbirds have provided the highly competitive Australian conference with a shake-up, edging out the Melbourne Vixens 39-38 in a bruising clash in Adelaide.

After some big score tallies in the first four rounds, yesterday's clash between the two fierce local rivals was a low-scoring slug-fest.

With both sides employing relentless, suffocating through-court defence there were few easy scores in the match - the teams forced to battle hard for every goal. With the scores locked at 29-all heading into the final period, it was the Thunderbirds who held their nerve in the frenetic closing stages.

Humiliated in Melbourne only a few weeks ago, the Thunderbirds had clearly done their homework on the Vixens, a side they hadn't beaten since 2010.

But an injury to inspirational captain Natalie von Bertouch late in the first quarter threw in a hurdle the Thunderbirds hadn't been anticipating.

In a fiercely contested opening spell, which set the tone for the rest of the match, von Bertouch copped a heavy knock to her leg when she collected the hip of Vixens defender Bianca Chatfield as she chased a loose ball.

Von Bertouch battled on for the rest of the quarter in some discomfort, and did not return following the break with league rookie Leigh Waddington playing out the rest of the match at centre.

"Unfortunately I couldn't push off one leg, so it's not fair to the rest of the team for me to play on if I'm not 100 per cent," von Bertouch later explained.

Without their midcourt marshal it was expected the Thunderbirds may lose their way in the second period, but instead the home side responded by ramping up the intensity on defence, putting the squeeze on the Vixens shooters.

Veteran shooter Sharelle McMahon, who was starting for the first time since returning to the competition following the birth of her first child, struggled to find her rhythm under the tight marking of Thunderbirds defensive pair Sharni Layton and Rebecca Bulley, and her accuracy suffered, shooting just 3/6 in the second quarter.

The Thunderbirds too were finding it tough in their attack end, but when the ball found its way into the hands of Erin Bell and Carla Borrego, they made sure of their shots to help their side out to a 19-16 lead at halftime.

The addition of 1.93m shooter Erin Hoare helped open up the Vixens attack in the third quarter, allowing the visitors to level up the score at 29-all at the final turn.

The momentum stayed with the Vixens early on, as they capitalised on a Geva Mentor intercept to score the first three goals of the quarter.

But the Thunderbirds returned fire with a 7-1 scoring run, to put the Melbourne side back in chase mode for the rest of the quarter.

In yesterday's other match across the Tasman, the West Coast Fever rocketed into the top four with a 70-49 win over the NSW Swifts in Perth.

After a slow start to the season, the Swifts were targeting the match as a must-win, but they came up against a fiery Fever side desperate to make up for a humiliating loss to the Thunderbirds the previous week.

- NZ Herald

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