Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Janine Southby tested tactically by Kiwi-baiting Norma Plummer

Silver Ferns centre Laura Langman battles with South Africa's Precious Mthembu. Photo / Alan Gibson
Silver Ferns centre Laura Langman battles with South Africa's Precious Mthembu. Photo / Alan Gibson

Had Janine Southby been coach of the Silver Ferns a bit longer, she admits she probably would have played things a little differently when her side were under the pump against South Africa in last night's Quad Series clash.

After a dream start to her coaching reign in the series opener against England last weekend, Southby's mettle was put to the test early in her second match in charge.

Caught off guard by a bold and determined start from the South Africans, the Ferns found themselves trailing by two goals at the end of the first quarter. That was after being down by as many as four goals through the latter stages of the spell, as the Ferns struggled to adjust to a switch-up in the midcourt that saw Laura Langman pushed back to wing defence and Shannon Francois start in the centre role.

With her side struggling to find their connections on attack, Southby had two options: persevere with the new line-up and give the players the opportunity work their way out of it; or baulk and revert back to the more familiar midcourt line-up of Langman at centre and Kayla Cullen at wing defence.

She chose the latter.

It meant handing South African coach and renowned Kiwi-baiter Norma Plummer a small win early on, but Southby said at this point in her young side's development, it was the only real option.

"It's still early days for a lot of our combinations and they hadn't been under that sort of pressure, so at that point in time we decided to make the change and get the settled combinations going again," Southby explained.

"Maybe if I wasn't just in the early stages of this process I might have had the confidence to leave them out there a little bit longer. But the reality is we haven't actually had a lot of game play and we really need to establish the confidence within the group and then introduce more people as we go forward."

Southby's caution may also have a lot to do with the looming showdown with Australia this Sunday.

The finale in Melbourne will decide the winner of the inaugural Quad Series. But of greater importance to the Ferns, it will set the tone for the new era.

Lisa Alexander's Diamonds side enjoyed a long period of dominance over the Ferns over the previous four-year cycle, the peak of which was the 2014 season, in which Australia routinely destroyed New Zealand by double-figure margins.

The Ferns were able to reel back some of Australia's advantage last season, pulling off a couple of memorable wins, but not when it mattered - the World Cup final.

Southby will looking to continue to build on that momentum created by former coach Waimarama Taumaunu. But with a large scale turnover in players from last season, which has hit both ends of the court hard, the Ferns are facing a difficult task to topple the relatively settled Australian line-up in their first attempt this weekend.

- NZ Herald

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