Silver Ferns 53 Australia 51
The Silver Ferns have pulled off a shock win over Australia to level the Constellation Cup 1-all heading into the New Zealand leg of the four-test series.
Hammered 68-56 in their first-up outing in Sydney on Sunday, the Ferns stunned the world champions with ferocious fightback last night.
Trailing 15-11 at the first break, it looked like the New Zealand side were in for another horror day at the office in Launceston. But the Ferns, buoyed by gutsy performances from returning defender Anna Harrison and the ever-consistent Laura Langman, found their spark during the middle stages of the match, outscoring the home side by six goals over the second and third quarter.
The inevitable fightback came from the Diamonds in the final spell as they upped the defensive pressure, forcing the Ferns in a string of errors in the opening minutes to reclaim the lead.
At this point, most punters would have backed the star-studded Diamonds side to romp away for the win - as they have done time and again to the Ferns in close matches.
But this time it was the New Zealand side that had the composure down the stretch, with rookie shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Bailey Mes putting in a brave performance in the goal circle under a mountain of physical and mental pressure.
Selby-Rickit, who was starting in her first game against Australia, was a revelation for the Ferns. Her height and deft touch on the pass, along with a nerveless 17/21 shooting performance, proved difficult for the Australian defence to nullify.
Langman, who came up with the crucial steal in the dying minutes to allow the Ferns to re-take the lead, said she was delighted with the way her side responded following Sunday's dismal opening to the series.
"It was nice to close the gap and having a really tight game. I think tonight showed the character this side has," she said.
The Ferns vice-captain said the challenge for her side now is to back-up again in Auckland this weekend. While the series is now levelled, after the heavy 12-goal defeat in the opening test, the New Zealand side will likely need to win the remaining two tests to come away with the Constellation Cup as a drawn series will be decided by goal percentage.
"The ability now to back it up is most important. We've been renowned for winning against Australia one-off, now we want to show we can do it consistently."
After Jane Watson was monstered in the goal circle by 1.93m shooter Caitlin Bassett in Sunday's 68-56 opening test loss, the Ferns made a change to their defensive end to start the match, introducing Anna Harrison at goal keep.
Harrison's added height and disruptive abilities had immediate impact, with the veteran defender picking two turnovers off Australia's opening two possessions. She continued to make a menace of herself throughout the match, picking up five intercepts and 11 deflections - several of those being blocked shots - in a welcome comeback to the Ferns defensive circle.
Harrison helped restrict Bassett to 40 goals - an impressive haul, but well short of the numbers the sharpshooter is used to posting.
The Ferns defence was well assisted by Langman at wing defence, with the veteran shutting down Diamonds midcourt speedster Madison Robinson, and thus a key part of Australia's supply chain into Bassett.