The humble WD bib causing problems for Silver Ferns

The loss of Kayla Cullen has left a major gap in the Silver Ferns midcourt. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.
The loss of Kayla Cullen has left a major gap in the Silver Ferns midcourt. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.

The humble wing defence bib is causing the Silver Ferns coaching staff major headaches as they plot their way back from a crushing defeat in the Constellation Cup opener.

The absence of versatile midcourter Kayla Cullen, who has been ruled out of the rest of the international season with a foot injury, significantly dented both the Ferns midcourt rhythm and effectiveness on defence as the New Zealand side slumped to a 12-goal loss to the Diamonds on Sunday.

The heavy first-up loss has Janine Southby and co hastily reassessing their options as they attempt to revive the series in tomorrow night's second test in Launceston, Tasmania. The problem is, plugging the gap left by Cullen exposes holes elsewhere.

Without Cullen, who brings speed, athleticism and x-factor to a role often thought of as the least glamorous on court, Southby was forced to play players out of position.

Veteran midcourter Laura Langman has the speed and footwork to match Diamonds wing attack Madison Robinson, but the New Zealand vice captain was also desperately needed at centre to help steer the attack.

Anna Harrison, who is still returning to full fitness after being sidelined six weeks with a calf injury, struggled to adjust to the pace in her 15 minutes on court when she was introduced after halftime.

The versatile defender has been used to great effect at wing defence in the past, with her long limbs wrecking havoc in the midcourt, but the ploy typically only works for 15-20 minutes before teams adjust to her presence.

Given the Ferns are at a clear height disadvantage in the defensive end, with goal keep Jane Watson giving away 12cm to Diamonds' sharp shooter Caitlin Bassett, many have questioned whether Harrison's disruptive abilities would have been better put to use in the defensive circle.

Southby had sought to bring in a specialist wing defence into the squad as cover for Cullen for this series, but found the cupboard unexpectedly bare.

Former Magic midcourter Jamie-Lee Price would have been the obvious answer, but the young star withdrew from the New Zealand programme in August in advance of her family's impending move back across the Tasman. Price has signed with the new Giants franchise in Sydney next season.

Several other candidates are rehabbing injuries, while others were deemed to be not ready to be thrown into the international cauldron.

"We actually have no specialist wing defences left in the country at the moment. We've had all those conversations and while we have a number of young, talented ones coming through, several are on injury management at the moment," said Southby.

"It's exposed a bit of a gap there really. When you're playing against a team that is very sharp, little things get exposed."

Southby is backing the new midcourt line to be better prepared in tomorrow's test. Given Harrison is not yet a full-game option and appears to be most needed in the defensive circle, it is likely Langman will once again start at wing defence, putting the onus on Shannon Francois to play a more commanding role at centre.

Francois will also need to play a key role on defence, with Southby calling on the Ferns midcourt to do more to slow the Australian attack through the court.

"We have to do a better job on defence up the court," said Southby.

"We were really guilty of not putting enough pressure on [Australia] throughout the court and that resulted in some pretty easy passing into Bassett at times."

Tomorrow night's test, which will be the first meeting between the two sides in Tasmania for 30 years, gets under way at 10.10pm.

- NZ Herald

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