Netball: Fast Ferns open with draw and win

By Dana Johannsen

Laura Langman. Photo / Getty Images.
Laura Langman. Photo / Getty Images.

New Zealand's first foray into Fast5 netted mixed results, with the Fast Ferns picking up a draw and win in their opening two matches, but wowed the crowd with their array of tricks.

A 31-23 win over Australia in tonight's final game, went some way in making up for a slow start to the evening, in which they drew with Jamaica.

The 38-all draw wasn't the only shock result from the opening night's action at Vector Arena, with Australia slumping to a 33-15 loss to Malawi in their second match-up.

World champions in the long form of the game, Australia have struggled with Fast5 format with the new rules rewarding high-risk play, which is at odds with the Diamonds' preference for structure. Australia fell to England 29-27 in their opener, before they were upstaged by a dazzling long-range shooting display from the Malawi Queens, led by star shooter Mwai Kumwenda, who was sporting a rockstar hairstyle to match.

One of the great entertainers in world netball, Malawi delighted the crowd with exuberant celebrations following their impressive win. But the excitement was all too much for one of the Malawi constituents travelling with side, who was so overwhelmed with the result, she passed out.

The African side looked set to go to the top of the leaderboard after the first day, with the Queens in control of their second match against Jamaica, holding a five-point advantage with 30 seconds to go. But poor option-taking from Malawi at the death gave Jamaica one last roll of the dice and the Sunshine Girls came up trumps, with Jhanielle Fowler landing a "super shot", which was worth six points in their powerplay quarter.

New Zealand shooter Maria Tutaia said the newly revamped rules, which features three different scoring zones, means that upset results will be a feature of the tournament.
"In this competition it's anyone's ballgame, especially with the three-pointers and the two-pointers, no lead is really safe," said Tutaia after her side also came undone by the Jamaicans' clutch shooting.

While the other top nations are using the tournament as an opportunity to expose their youngsters to the international environment, Waimarama Taumaunu selected virtually a full-strength line-up for the Auckland tournament.

Taumaunu's advice to her side heading into the weekend was to enjoy themselves and be creative - an instruction the Ferns keenly grasped in last night's opener.

For periods of their two matches the Ferns were like the Harlem Globetrotters of netball, with their full range of trickery on display.

There were long bombs delivered into the circle with pinpoint precision, some exceptional long-range shooting, and the crowd favourite "Harrison Hoist".

But the Ferns could not quite find the right balance between when to go for the high-risk play and when to opt for safety in their opening match against Jamaica.

The Kiwi side trailed 27-26 heading into the final spell, but with New Zealand saving their powerplay quarter - during which their score is doubled - for the fourth quarter, the Ferns still looked in control of proceedings.

But New Zealand failed to make the most of their advantage, with Jamaica learning their lesson from their first-up loss to South Africa, and defending resolutely to starve New Zealand of possession during their powerplay quarter.

As frustration set in for New Zealand, so too did the errors, which the Sunshine Girls capitalised on with a late flurry of long-range goals.

Diminutive shooter Anna-Kaye Griffiths levelled the score at 38-all with 28 seconds left on the clock, and while the Ferns had the following possession, they could not break the deadlock.

Fast5 World Series
Day one results
South Africa 34-25 Jamaica
England 29-27 Australia
New Zealand 38-33 Jamaica
Malawi 33-15 Australia
England 41-27 South Africa
Jamaica 32-31 Malawi
New Zealand 31-23 Australia

- APNZ

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