Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Taumaunu sticks to experience for tests

Ferns will be at full strength against Malawi despite their intense schedule.

Midcourter Katarina Cooper could  make her debut for  the  Silver Ferns in the three-test series against Malawi. Photo / Richard Robinson
Midcourter Katarina Cooper could make her debut for the Silver Ferns in the three-test series against Malawi. Photo / Richard Robinson

The national selectors did not consider resting any of the Silver Ferns frontline stars for this month's test series against Malawi, despite a demanding programme over the next 12 months.

Fresh off a demoralising 4-1 Constellation Cup series loss to Australia, Waimarama Taumaunu yesterday named a full-strength line-up for the three-test series against the Malawi Queens, with the only players left out of the group being on the fringes.

Unheralded midcourter Katarina Cooper has received her first test call-up, while defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit rejoins the team, the pair coming in at the expense of Courtney Tairi and Anna Thompson. Selby-Rickit was originally named in the Constellation Cup team, but the canny defender was dropped from the side for the Australian leg of the series as the selectors called in reinforcements to assist the struggling midcourt with Shannon Francois joining the team. Francois impressed in her outings for the Ferns considering she was thrown in the deep end, and retains her place in the team for the Malawi series.

Taumaunu said the changes to the team for the tests against the world-ranked No 5 side had been planned for some time. "We had decided once Millie [Lees] and a few others became unavailable for the Constellation Cup to take the most experienced players we had left in the midcourt, and then bring in Shannon and Katarina for the Malawi series.

"Shannon jumped the gun a wee bit, but we decided to stick with the original plan for Malawi."

The Malawi series is an opportunity for Taumaunu to further develop new combinations, and help firm up through court links in a less pressurised environment. It also presented the opportunity to rest some of the side's top names ahead of what will be a busy 2014 season.

The Ferns have a tour to England in January before the players go straight into their preparations for the ANZ Championship, which begins three weeks earlier next year to accommodate the Commonwealth Games. Midcourt star Laura Langman should be first in line for a break, having been laden with a huge workload in the past few years. Since making her debut in 2005, Langman has never missed a test for the Ferns, racking up 95 appearances.

Taumaunu said the selectors wanted to keep consistency to their line-up and continue to work on issues in their game that were identified during the Australian series.

"[Resting players] wasn't a consideration. We've got a couple of players that are being rested during the Fast 5, which allows them a longer conditioning window ahead of next season," she said.

Irene van Dyk, Jodi Brown and Joline Henry are all being rested from the Fast 5 tournament to be held in Auckland next month.

Taumaunu said she is looking forward to seeing what Cooper can produce with a full-strength line-up around her. Cooper, who was a shock selection in the Silver Ferns squad earlier this year after not even being picked up by an ANZ Championship side, will be looking to challenge Francois for the wing attack spot.

"I've always been a big fan of her vision and ball-skills and we thought given she is still returning from a knee injury [suffered in 2012] it was best to introduce her in an environment where there won't be the same level of physicality that the Australians provide."

The Malawi series begins next Thursday in Wellington. Napier will host the second test, with the final in Hamilton.

- NZ Herald

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