Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Bassett hounds Silver Ferns again

Caitlin Bassett of the Diamonds stretches to catch the ball against the Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty
Caitlin Bassett of the Diamonds stretches to catch the ball against the Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty

Since announcing her arrival on the international scene by sinking the winning goal in the 2011 World Cup final, Australian sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett has hounded the Silver Ferns.

Five years on, the Ferns appear no closer to finding a way to nullify the 1.93m sharpshooter.

The Australian vice captain led the Diamonds to a comprehensive 12-goal win over the New Zealand side in the Constellation Cup opener in Sydney, producing a flawless 47/47 shooting performance in her three quarters on court. Had the 28-year-old played the full game, she would have undoubtedly surpassed her previous best international tally of 53 goals, which she recorded only last month in her last outing against the Kiwi side.

While the Diamonds were formidable right across the court, it was Bassett that proved the key difference with the Ferns unable to match the scoring power of the Australians, who equalled their highest tally against New Zealand of 68 goals.

Bassett's growing dominance against the Ferns can been linked to New Zealand's shrinking defence, with the Kiwi side lacking height following the loss of Casey Kopua (maternity leave) and Leana de Bruin (retirement).

At 1.81m, rookie defender Jane Watson gives away 12cm on Bassett, while captain Katrina Grant (1.85m) is also considered on the short side for a defender. Given the pair aren't likely to grow between now and the second test outing in Launceston, the Ferns skipper said their only option of containing Bassett is to stop the ball getting into her hands.

"We need to get the ball before it gets to [Bassett] really. We need to do a lot more work up the court so it forces balls to go off-centre so we have a chance to disrupt it. When you have someone like Madi [Robinson] and Nat [Medhurst] feeding Bassett with no pressure then it's pretty darn tough to combat," said Grant.

The manner of today's loss was especially disappointing after the new-look Ferns showed promising signs in last month's 60-55 loss in the Quad Series. Despite fielding an inexperienced line-up, the New Zealand side did well to challenge the well-drilled Australian line-up. The lead changed 10 times before New Zealand made crucial errors in the final few minutes of the game in Melbourne, allowing Australia to take the win - and the inaugural Quad Series trophy.

This time, the Ferns were never looked in it.

In an opening eerily reminiscent of last year's World Cup final played at the same venue, the New Zealand side were blown off the court from the outset, finding themselves 9-1 down after five minutes. But unlike last year's World Cup showdown, in which the Ferns fought their way back to a narrow the deficit to just three by the final whistle, this time the Diamonds dominated from start to finish.

"They took the game by the throat right from the first whistle," admitted Ferns coach Janine Southby.

Missing athletic midcourter Kayla Cullen, who has been ruled out of the rest of the international season with a foot injury, the Ferns were forced to make changes to their starting side from that which last took the court against Australia in last month's Quad Series decider. The changes saw Laura Langman pushed back into wing defence, with Shannon Francois getting the nod to start at centre - a combination that has had mixed results to date.

Without Langman directing proceedings from centre, the Ferns attack struggled early on as the connection between Francois and wing attack Grace Rasmussen looked frayed. The suffocating Australian defence, led by the tenacious Sharni Layton, only worked to further confuse the Ferns attack with players hesitant to let the ball into the shooting circle.

Southby said the Ferns delivery on attack will be another key work-on heading into the next test.

"I think the courage to let the ball go and at times on attack we didn't have enough movement. We know you cannot expect to stand and get the ball, you've got to do the work. That was something we talked about and to not put it into action is really disappointing."

- NZ Herald

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