Netball: Australia take topsy-turvy first test

Irene Van Dyk of New Zealand shoots during game one of the series between the New Zealand Silver Ferns and the Australian Diamonds. Photo / Getty Images
Irene Van Dyk of New Zealand shoots during game one of the series between the New Zealand Silver Ferns and the Australian Diamonds. Photo / Getty Images

Australia see-sawed their way to a 52-47 victory over the Silver Ferns in the first trans-Tasman netball test at Arena Manawatu here tonight.

Behind for much of the match, the Diamonds turned around a 29-25 halftime deficit with a 14-9 third quarter then controlled the final 15 minutes to close out the win.

The Silver Ferns had looked comfortable for the opening half, but couldn't respond as the Australians upped the ante in the last half of the game, forcing the errors then converting the turnover possession.

New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken opted not to risk captain Casey Williams, still recovering from a calf strain but the defensive line lost little, with lanky goalkeep Leana de Bruin taking charge at the back, Anna Scarlett let loose at goal defence and wing defence Joline Henry completing a strong back trio.

It was the first time the teams had met since New Zealand's epic double extra time 66-64 win at October's New Delhi Commonwealth Games, and both coaches fielded their strongest possible combinations.

Although the Silver Ferns started strongly in breaking the first Australian pass, the Diamonds bounced back to slot the next five goals for a confidence-boosting early lead.

The New Zealanders responded almost immediately, their ball speed through the court and feed into Irene van Dyk and Tutaia instrumental in levelling the scores.

For the rest of the quarter, the two teams paced each other goal for goal, Tutaia's killer long-range bombs matched by Natalie Medhurst's sharp circle movement and accurate shot over the gangling arms of Scarlett.

New Zealand's narrow 15-14 lead at the end of the first quarter disappeared early in the second, but neither team could edge out past a three-goal lead and too often failed to convert turnover ball into points on the board.

The battle between Diamonds' gritty wing defence Mo'onia Gerrard and Ferns wing attack Temepara George proved absorbing as both teams upped the battle for midcourt dominance.

Both players fought fiercely for the ball, both earned the ire of the referees' whistle and both were often left sprawling on the floor.

For the Silver Ferns, wing defence Joline Henry worked overtime in shutting down wing attack Kimberlee Green, with her attacking line-up switching into defence mode to smother the midcourt options.

A four-goal run late in the quarter saw New Zealand go into the halftime break with a useful 29-25 lead, and Plummer pulled a somewhat subdued Laura Geitz from goal keep for van Dyk's occasional nemesis, the 1.96m Susan Fuhrmann.

Fuhrmann's combination with goal defence Julie Corletto proved an important partnership, the two players working the circle well to shut down the options available from the Ferns' midcourt.

Green was also benched, rookie international Chelsea Pitman coming on to inject extra pace into the midcourt and more variety on the feed.

For the Silver Ferns, George was rested and home-town hero Liana Leota took over wing attack duties.

The Diamonds scrapped their way back into the game in the third quarter, New Zealand's midcourt looked a little disjointed as the Australians lifted their midcourt defensive pressure.

With three minutes until the three-quarter mark, they hit the front for the first time since early in the second stanza, maintaining composure to lead 39-38 with 15 minutes remaining.

George re-entered the fray for the final quarter, but although there was more cohesion in the Ferns' midcourt, the Australians upped their defensive effort and cut down the turnovers to shatter any New Zealand hopes of a comeback.

The second and final test is in Auckland on Sunday.

- NZPA

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