Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Silver Ferns fire up late to douse red-hot Proteas

Silver Ferns player Grace Rasmussen gets up against South Africa Proteas player Karla Mostert. Photo / Alan Gibson
Silver Ferns player Grace Rasmussen gets up against South Africa Proteas player Karla Mostert. Photo / Alan Gibson

Silver Ferns 65
Proteas 46

Norma Plummer has returned to taunt the Silver Ferns.

The record will show a comfortable 19-goal victory to the Ferns over Plummer's South African side in tonight's Quad Series clash, but the manner in which it was achieved was anything but.

The Australian coaching great's young South African side put the frighteners up the Ferns in Hamilton, out-playing and out-witting New Zealand for much of the opening half.

The world number five ranked Proteas, who were trounced 67-28 by the Ferns the last time the two sides met prior to the 2015 World Cup, played with confidence and smarts that belied their limited international exposure, taking it to the Ferns from the outset.

After leading by as many as four goals through the opening period, the South Africans, who Plummer coaches on only a part-time basis, held a 16-14 advantage at the first break, forcing New Zealand coach Janine Southby into unexpected changes early on.

It wasn't until mid-way through the second spell that the Ferns were able to settle into any sort of rhythm, clawing their way back into the lead by halftime.

From there, the New Zealand side slowly pulled away, but they never really looked settled, as the gutsy Proteas niggled away all night.

After ushering in the new era with an impressive 65-39 drubbing of England in their opening Quad Series match-up at the weekend, last night's stumbles against South Africa has provided the team with a timely reminder of their potential weaknesses.

Perhaps with an eye to Sunday's Quad Series showdown with Australia, Southby tweaked her midcourt line-up tonight's match, shifting Laura Langman back to wing defence, with Shannon Francois getting the start at centre.

Langman has long been seen as a potential antidote to dynamic Diamonds wing attack Madison Robinson - Australia's key link into star shooter Caitlin Bassett. The Ferns veteran, who plied her trade for the NSW Swifts this season, matched up well against Robinson in their ANZ Championship encounters.

But previous attempts by the New Zealand side to move Langman to wing defence have suffered for a lack of a strong replacement to the athletic star at centre. Francois, who had a strong season with the Southern Steel, did not step forward as a likely contender last night.

She was pulled after an ordinary opening quarter, in which the New Zealand side struggled for any rhythm on attack.

The return of Langman at centre in the second spell helped provide a bit more punch on attack, helping shooters Bailey Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio settle into their work more.

Southby was also forced into changes in her defence end, with Jane Watson, who made her debut in the Quad Series opener, introduced to try and contain the Proteas shooter Lenize Potgiter.

Potgieter, who impressed in her first visit to New Zealand in last year's two hit-outs against the Ferns prior to the World Cup, again caused problems for the home side, with her height and mobility proving a double threat.

Watson once again made a strong impact for the Ferns collecting four intercepts and a couple of other handy pick-ups, raising the possibility she may get the start against Australia in Melbourne this weekend, capping off an incredible rise for the 26-year-old, who wasn't initially even included in the wider New Zealand squad.

The Diamonds will take on England in Adelaide later tonight.

- NZ Herald

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