Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Underdone Ferns face danger of tour defeat

Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu admits her side are vulnerable to an upset loss against England and Jamaica this month.

The Ferns touched down in Glasgow last night ahead of a two-week tour of the UK, which includes exhibition matches against Scotland before they head to London to meet England and Jamaica.

Given the players are coming in fresh off their summer breaks with limited court work under their belts the two matches loom as a risky proposition for the Ferns.

Australia proved last year the difficulty of touring at this time of year, suffering a historic 3-0 series loss to England, whose domestic season runs from December through to March.

While the players will lack match fitness, Taumaunu said they need to be cautious about overdoing their preparation for the mini tri-series.

"Going to England at this time of year is quite a vulnerable time for us, I think the Australians showed that last year," said Taumaunu.

"We're also aware that we're pulling players in off-season and we don't want to have a programme that is such a surprise to their bodies that we have people injured, so that's going to be a balancing act that we've started and will continue to run across the month.

"We're going to have a pretty managed approach to bringing in that really high-intensity quick movement. We'll take a little while to get to that I think."

Adding to the Ferns vulnerability is the absence of captain Casey Kopua, who is still recovering from minor ankle surgery last month, leaving a vast experience gap in the defensive end - traditionally their area of strength. Kopua has been replaced in the test squad by Southern Steel defender and under-21 star Phoenix Karaka, with two-test Fern Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit likely to replace Kopua in the starting side.

Despite the New Zealand side going into the series underdone, Taumaunu believes the risks of suffering a loss, which could be damaging to the team's confidence ahead of the Commonwealth Games, is out-weighed by benefits of getting a good look at the other medal contenders.

Taumaunu said they have seen plenty of Australia over the past couple of years, but they have not played a test against Jamaica in nearly three years.

It has also been a long time since they have met England at full strength.

With star defender Geva Mentor returning to the fray for England after ending a two-year standoff with her national body over their selection criteria, and a good chunk of their starting line-up having regular ANZ Championship experience, Tau-maunu said the English line-up is one of the strongest she's seen.

"This tour is hugely important for us - the first week is a familiarisation with Glasgow [the Commonwealth Games venue] and the second is getting a really good look at Jamaica, who will be in our pool play, and England who we may meet in the crossover," she said

"It's an opportunity for us to meet line-ups we may have seen on television and not played."

The tour will be the last time the Ferns are together as a group before the reassemble in July for the Commonwealth Games build-up. But Taumaunu said there was still room for a player outside of the tour group to force their way into the Commonwealth Games team.

The selectors will be keeping a particularly close eye on Mystics defender Anna Harrison as she returns from the birth of her first child. Versatile star Kayla Cullen could also come back into the reckoning in the next six months, but has a difficult road ahead following a knee reconstruction in September.

- NZ Herald

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