Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Late NZ lapse hands victory to Australians

Silver Ferns players and coaching staff try to take in their 60-55 loss to the Diamonds after the netball Quad Series final yesterday. Photo / Photosport
Silver Ferns players and coaching staff try to take in their 60-55 loss to the Diamonds after the netball Quad Series final yesterday. Photo / Photosport

The Silver Ferns have been delivered another harsh lesson in consistency by the Australian Diamonds, after a two-minute lapse in the final quarter cost the New Zealand side the inaugural Quad Series crown.

Janine Southby's new-look side last night proved unexpectedly competitive against the world netball champions, pushing the Diamonds hard throughout and even leading for sustained periods of the match.

But all it took was a wobbly two minute period late in the final spell for it all to unravel.

Leading by one goal with five minutes left on the clock, the Ferns suddenly lost their nerve as the defensive pressure from the feisty Australians began to take its toll - particularly on shooter Bailey Mes, who finished with a disappointing return of 23/34.

With the scoring power of Caitlin Bassett down the other end of the court, the Australian side were always going to capitalise on the late flurry of turnovers, charging home to pull off a 60-55 win.

Having battled so valiantly throughout to be on the cusp of pulling off an unlikely series win, Silver Ferns skipper Katrina Grant was disappointed with the soft finish to her opening campaign as national captain.

"I think just one slip and they can score very, very quickly. We had a couple of errors and by the time I looked up on the clock, we were down by four and there was a minute and 40 seconds to go. That was pretty tough for us to take, that we were so close for so long and then let it slip," said Grant.

The loss will be particularly frustrating for the New Zealand side when they run their eye over the shooting stats for the match, with the Ferns putting up four more shots at goal than the Australians - even with a record tally of 53 goals from Bassett.

But given where the Ferns are in their development, Grant said there were plenty of positives to take out of the clash as well.

With the New Zealand side having undergone a major turnover in players over the past season, there were several new combinations taking the court against Australia for the first time last night, while defender Jane Watson made her first international start.

The two sides are set to meet four more times this season in next month's Constellation Cup series, and Grant hopes last night's experience will prove a learning opportunity for her side.

"That's the first time a couple of our girls have played against Australia, let alone full games against Australia. To be fair, I haven't even played many full games against Aussie.

"So it was really good for us to get out there and get that learning experience heading into Con Cup," she said.

Before the Ferns will get the opportunity to tackle Australia again, they will meet Jamaica in a three-test series beginning in Nelson next week.

There will be several immediate work-ons for the New Zealand side, with fine-tuning their defensive links, and making better decisions under pressure chief among them.

Southby will make a decision on whether any changes will be made to her line-up for the series later this week after receiving a medical update on injured stars Anna Harrison and Maria Tutaia.

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.

Ferns struggle to keep out Bassett

may be a new era for the Silver Ferns, but the same traditional foes continue to haunt them.

Australian sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett once again proved the chief threat in the Diamonds line-up in last night's win over the Ferns, racking up 53 of her side's 60 goals.

Since announcing her arrival on the scene by shooting the winning goal in the 2011 World Cup final, the 1.93m shooter has been a thorn in the side of the Ferns team, with many coaching hours spent trying to find a way to limit her impact.

Bassett last night notched up her biggest international tally to date, surpassing her previous mark by four goals - much to the shock of Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander.

"When I saw the score up on the big screen, I was stunned - 53 goals is just amazing," said Alexander. "Caitlin has had a really impressive series. She's such a true professional and she works really hard, so I was delighted with how she performed."

It was a brutal introduction for defender Jane Watson, handed one of the toughest jobs in world netball in her first international start.

After initially missing selection in the New Zealand squad, Watson continued her rapid elevation last night, with coach Janine Southby starting the 26-year-old after just a week in the camp. Watson made a promising start, with a couple of handy early touches 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 over Watson, as Robinson began to find her touch on the feed into the circle.

"She's got a lot of heart, she moves really quickly and she is sighting ball," said Southby of Watson. "So yes, we gave away a lot of easy balls in there, but there were times when she got really close to taking it out of her hands as well."

- NZ Herald

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