Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Commonwealth Games: Star shooter's foot pain adds to pressure for Ferns

Maria Tutaia (far left, with fellow Fern Liana Leota) is crucial to New Zealand's title defence. Photo / Greg Bowker
Maria Tutaia (far left, with fellow Fern Liana Leota) is crucial to New Zealand's title defence. Photo / Greg Bowker

An injury to star shooter Maria Tutaia has further unsettled the Silver Ferns camp after a rocky start to their Commonwealth Games title defence.

Tutaia was forced off the court early in the first quarter of the Ferns' 78-29 win over Northern Ireland yesterday after pain in her foot. The injury comes after rookie Ellen Halpenny sprained her ankle five minutes into her international debut against Scotland the day before, leaving New Zealand light on shooters.

The shock retirement of Irene van Dyk - the woman who has anchored the NZ shooting end for the past three Commonwealth Games - just weeks before the tournament forced a rethink of the Ferns' attacking strategy.

With only a limited build-up to the event, it is imperative they use the early pool games in Glasgow to develop their shooting combinations and fine-tune the links between the shooting end and midcourt.

A narrow three-goal win over world No5 Malawi in their opening pool match emphasised just how much work NZ need to do in this area, with the team looking disjointed and their accuracy on attack poor.

But with Halpenny and now Tutaia injured, Cathrine Latu and Jodi Brown must shoulder most of the workload. On top of the existing injury problems, the over-reliance on the pair raises concerns of fatigue towards the end of the Games.

The good news is the Ferns have had a rest day before they hit the court again tonight in their fourth pool match, against St Lucia. Halpenny, cleared of ligament damage, is expected to be fit but Tutaia's prognosis was last night still unclear.

Tutaia had discomfort in her foot before yesterday's game and was whisked off when the pain worsened.

Tutaia, who shot the winning goal in the Ferns' stunning double extra-time win over Australia in the 2010 final, is crucial to the side's Commonwealth Games title defence.

Latu has never played in the final of a major tournament, while the last time Brown experienced the heat of a tournament final was in the 2007 World Championship loss to arch-rival Australia.

Coach Waimarama Taumaunu may opt to rest Tutaia against St Lucia tonight, but they will need her back in action for their final pool round match against Jamaica tomorrow. The Sunshine Girls have looked slick in early matches, as have England.

- NZ Herald

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