Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Australia finish strong to edge Silver Ferns

Australia 60 Silver Ferns 55
Bailey Mes shoots as Jane Watson attempts to block during the Netball Quad Series match between Australia and New Zealand. Photo / Photosport
Bailey Mes shoots as Jane Watson attempts to block during the Netball Quad Series match between Australia and New Zealand. Photo / Photosport

The Australian Diamonds have claimed the inaugural Quad Series trophy after toppling the Silver Ferns in a heated deciding clash in Melbourne today.

The world champions lacked their typical lustre early on, as the new-look Ferns outshone them in facets of the game in the opening half, taking it to the Australians from the outset. The New Zealand side led through much of the second spell, before a late penalty goal after regulation time was up on the clock levelled the score at 30-all heading into the second half.

But the pressure put on by the feisty Australian defensive outfit began to reap rewards later in the game, as they successfully got under the skins of Ferns attack, particularly shooter Bailey Mes, who had a disappointing return of 23/34.

After finding themselves five goals down early in the fourth, wing defence Kayla Cullen helped orchestrate a late fightback from the Ferns, coming up with a couple of impressive steals.

The Ferns took a one-goal lead with five minutes left on the clock, but then immediately relinquished it after giving up a soft turnover in the shooting circle.

That late scare was all the Diamonds needed to fire up, as they charged home to take a 60-55 win. The Ferns would have been disappointed with the final five-goal margin, particularly having put up four more shots than the Australians.

Defender Jane Watson, who initially missed selection in the New Zealand squad, continued her rapid elevation from the ranks, being handed her first international start. Watson, who was called into the Ferns line-up on the eve of the Quad Series as an injury replacement for Anna Harrison, was handed the toughest assignment in world netball for her first start - marking Diamonds sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett.

Watson made a promising start, with a couple of handy early touches to the ball as the Diamonds' experienced attacking line-up of Bassett, Natalie Medhurst and Madi Robinson displayed a bit of rust in the opening stages.

But the Diamonds soon began exploiting the 12cm height advantage Bassett had in the circle, as Robinson began to find her touch on the feed into the circle.

Down the other end of the court every ball into Mes was tightly contested, with Australian defender Sharni Layton putting huge pressure on the long bombs into the circle. That pressure began to reap dividends later in the quarter as Layton collected a couple of handy pick-ups to see her side out to a 17-14 lead.

The Ferns put a stop to that momentum from the outset of the second spell, producing a blistering 6-1 start to the quarter on the back of some strong work by the defensive unit. Grant collected an intercept on the Diamonds opening possession, before Kayla Cullen and Laura Langman chimed in with pick-ups of their own.

The flurry of defensive stops saw the Ferns out to a 20-18 lead. They kept their noses in front for much of the spell, before a late penalty goal from Australia after regulation time was up on the clock levelled the score at 30-all heading into the halftime break.

The third quarter played out in almost a reverse fashion to the second, with this time the Australians seizing the initiative after the break, opening with a 6-2 run before the Ferns clawed it back to a one-goal ball game heading into the final period.

In the earlier match-up, England finished off an unhappy Quad Series campaign on a high note, toppling South Africa 57-43. The match brought up veteran midcourter Jade Clarke's 129th test, making her the most-capped English player.

With the two sides entering the match on the same goal differential after suffering similarly heavy defeats at the hands of New Zealand and Australia, many were tipping the South Africans to cause a boilover in Melbourne today.

But after making a strong statement early and racing out to a 13-11 lead at the first break, the Proteas lost their composure when the inevitable fightback from England came.

- NZ Herald

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