Silver Ferns 49
The Silver Ferns exorcised a few of their world championship demons in Perth last night, surviving a fierce fightback from Australia to claim a one-goal win in their Constellation Cup clash.
Just three months have passed since the Australians tipped over the Ferns in the world championship final in Singapore. Last night's test - the third of five in the series - was their first meeting since that heart-breaking night.
The Ferns took the opportunity to put a few things right, their nerves holding over the tense final few minutes to claim the win and take a 2-1 lead in the series.
With the scores locked at 48-all in the dying stages of the match, Maria Tutaia, who had a forgettable performance in the world championship final, stepped up to sink the winning goal. Australia still had a chance to level the score with the centre pass to follow, but Joline Henry came up with a brilliant match-winning intercept.
New coach Waimarama Taumaunu said she was delighted with the maturity and composure of Tutaia after the heartbreak earlier in the year.
"For her to sink those crucial goals at the end really does get rid of the monkey on the back," said Taumaunu, who claimed a win in her first outing as New Zealand coach.
But just how Australia got to be in a position to be in with a sniff over the final quarter will be of real concern to the Ferns heading in to the fourth test in Adelaide on Wednesday.
There was an eerie symmetry to last night's match and the Singapore final, with the Silver Ferns blowing a healthy lead to allow Australia back in to the match.
The Silver Ferns led by six goals at halftime, prompting new Australian coach Lisa Alexander to bench their most experienced shooter Catherine Cox and inject young shooter Caitlin Bassett in to the game, just as Norma Plummer did in the final.
The changes didn't initially appear to have the same impact though, with the Ferns racing out to a healthy 11-goal lead early in the third quarter.
But then the Ferns inexplicably hit a wall. Led by some brilliant defence at the back by Rebecca Bulley and Kimberlee Green, who was playing in the less-familiar role of wing-defence for the second half, the Australians made an audacious comeback.
After playing with brilliant flair and precision for 35 minutes, the Ferns went in to meltdown as goal-by-goal the Diamonds ate their way into the lead.
By three-quartertime New Zealand's lead was back to five-goals, five minutes later and Australia had the scores locked at 42-all.
Taumaunu admitted she has real concerns over her side's ability to defend a lead.
"I think we made some foolish errors, but whilst we are really trying to maintain a low error rate, we also want to retain our creativity, and I have to say there were times where our creativity [took] precedence," she said.
The resolve in the Ferns camp was clear from the outset.
Taumaunu indicated in the build-up to the match that she expecting big improvements from her midcourt after their 2-0 series win over England earlier in the month. And the nippy midcourt pairing of Laura Langman and Liana Leota started with vigour, out-gunning their opponents to provide quality service for Irene van Dyk and Tutaia.
The New Zealand shooting pairing fed on the early confidence of the midcourt, slotting the ball through the net with ease, while down the other end Cox and Natalie Medhurst struggled with their accuracy.