It didn't take long for the realities of the Silver Ferns' top job to hit home for Janine Southby.

The New Zealand side head into today's Quad Series opener - Southby's first test as national coach - on the back of a poor build-up after injuries and illness conspired to disrupt the team's already limited preparation.

Ferns management were forced to make a late change to their line-up for the clash against England with Steel defender Jane Watson called in as injury replacement for Anna Harrison.

The loss of the star defender is a massive blow, with Harrison in impressive form in the ANZ Championship. She carried that into national trials last week. The 33-year-old, who was preparing to make her first appearance in the black dress since the 2014 Commonwealth Games, had been tipped to be one of the players to watch for the series.


The addition of Watson, who was elevated to the test line-up despite initially missing selection in the wider squad, brings the number of uncapped players in the team to four, joining Maia Wilson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Storm Purvis.

The Ferns' training hit-outs this week would have done little to bolster the young group's confidence.

It is understood they suffered a six-goal loss to the NZ A side in a warm-up match on Thursday - the same match in which Harrison picked up her injury. Norma Plummer's South African side meanwhile, are believed to have lost to the NZ A team, which features seasoned ANZ Championship performers Cathrine Tuivaiti, Ellen Halpenny, Sam Sinclair and Jess Moulds, by 10 goals.

It is not unusual for an A side to beat the top line-up, particularly when the Ferns would have been rotating combinations, while some of the players who missed selection in the test side would have been eager to prove a point to the national coaches.

One of the reasons for bringing the NZ 'A' programme back last year was to try to return to the days in the later 90s and early 2000s when there was some fierce contests between the Ferns side and their understudies, putting the incumbents under strong pressure.

But with Southby trying to build confidence in her young group as they prepare for a tricky first-up test against the world No3-ranked English, the loss was another major blow.

The less-than-ideal preparation also poses the first serious test of new captain Katrina Grant's leadership qualities. The absence of Harrison in the defensive circle means Grant will be relied upon even more so to lead from the front today.