By Richard Boock
CHRISTCHURCH - Belinda Colling blames herself for New Zealand's heart-breaking one-goal loss to Australia in the world netball championship final.
The Silver Ferns captain cast a lonely figure long after Australia snatched a 42-41 win with the last shot of the match on Saturday night, successfully defending their title for the second time following a stunning fourth-quarter reversal.
Still looking dazed after the last, dramatic moments of the game, when Australian substitute Sharelle McMahon nailed the winning goal on the stroke of fulltime, Colling suggested she would never forgive herself for not securing the title.
"I thought I played appallingly," she said after being presented with her runners-up medal. "I don't think I had a good tournament at all, and it's hard to say why. I obviously needed to be out there leading by example and I'm pretty disappointed that I wasn't able to."
Runaway favourites to meet in the tenth championship final, the two teams mounted huge defensive games which took a toll on both sets of shooters, with Colling and Donna Loffhagen initially struggling no more than Vicki Wilson and Jacqui Delaney.
If anything, the Ferns' defence - led impressively by Bernice Mene and Lesley Nicol - was the most influential, with Delaney and then Wilson struggling for position and accuracy, allowing the hosts to maintain a small lead for most of the match.
In front of a capacity, 7000-strong crowd New Zealand crept into a 23-21 halftime lead, and by the three-quarter mark had established a six-goal (34-28) cushion and a clear chance to knock over Australia.
However, revitalised by new shooting blood, the defending champions stormed through the final quarter on the back of an eight-goal run, the more settled attack-end pouring intense pressure on their Kiwi counterparts - who were kept scoreless for six minutes.
Loffhagen's miss under the hoop with just seconds left allowed Australia to set up McMahon for the winner, but Colling was adamant her shooting partner should not be blamed.
"Donna's shot at the end could've put us one up," she said. "But we shouldn't have put her in that position in the first place. The game can't be about one shot. For 60 minutes there's heaps of things within our control - so we shouldn't just focus on the last thing that happened."
Australia's papers wasted no time in celebrating the win.
"Best in the world" and "Oldies claim golden victory" were headlines that dotted the Sunday papers, with a photograph of the beaming victors dominating the back page of the Herald-Sun.
They paid tribute to coach Jill McIntosh, who had the courage to change her shooting combination, including Wilson, when her side trailed.
"The move paid huge dividends as the Kiwis choked at the death," the Daily Telegraph reported.
Although New Zealand centre Julie Seymour was named the official player of the tournament, the Telegraph named defender Kathryn Harby as its MVP.
"We stole it," Harby said. "If I was them, I'd be absolutely shattered, and we're the extreme contrast, totally elated. This is just total euphoria, it's what you dream about."