Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Australia retain Constellation Cup

Australia 49 New Zealand 45

The Australian Diamonds have taken out the Constellation Cup for the fourth straight year, edging the Silver Ferns in a heated finale in Invercargill.

The Diamonds raced out to a four-goal lead at the first break, as the Ferns struggled to find safe passage to goal in the early stages. And that proved to be the difference in the end as the visitors repelled wave after wave of desperate fightbacks from the Ferns, recording a 49-45 win to close out the series 3-1.

The Australians had the silverware all but locked away for another year heading into the final clash, with the Ferns needing to win by 22 goals or more to claim the title for just the second time in seven years.

Despite their commanding position, the Diamonds played like a team still fighting for the series. They were brutal on defence - at times perhaps excessively so, swift and clinical through the midcourt, and deadly accurate on goal.

Their unwavering application through the court reflected their disappointment at how they finished the 2015 series. The Australians looked to have had the title comfortably sewn up heading into last year's finale, but they were upstaged 58-47 by a determined New Zealand side, in what was Waimarama Taumaunu's last game in charge.

The 11-goal win was not enough to wrest the Cup away from Australia, but the Diamonds were nevertheless bitterly disappointed to head into their summer break on the back of one of their worst losses in years.

It's a feeling Lisa Alexander and her side were determined they would not experience again.

The New Zealand camp had a lot to play for as well.

Disappointed with their lapse in intensity in last weekend's 12-goal loss in Auckland after doing so well to fight their way back into the series with a 53-51 win in game two in Tasmania, the Ferns wanted to finish with a performance they were proud of.

They also had a rather large monkey to shake from their backs having not beaten Australia on New Zealand soil in more than three years. But the New Zealand side could not channel that desperation into a cohesive and consistent performance for long enough stretches.

They had their moments however, with the Ferns particularly impressive on defence, limiting the free-scoring Australians, lead by the dominant Caitlin Bassett, to under 50 goals for the first time this season.

Anna Harrison and Laura Langman, who was playing in a milestone match, were once again influential on defence, playing with guts and grit.

With Langman opting to make the move to the Australian league next year, she will not be eligible to represent the Ferns in 2017, meaning last night's match marked the end of an incredible 141 consecutive tests for New Zealand.

Just as was the case in the opening two tests, the Ferns struggled to find their feet early in the match as they found themselves immediately smothered by the Australian defence.
The home side looked slick through the court, but they had trouble executing their final pass into the circle with Bailey Mes wearing a green and gold cloak otherwise known as Sharni Layton.

The introduction of Maria Tutaia mid-way through the second spell helped bring Mes back into the game, with the 104-test veteran offering better finesse on the pass.
There wasn't a lot of finesse from the Australian defenders however, with the visitors work on the circle edge especially cynical.

With the Ferns retaliating that saw the game descend into a brutal tit-for-tat in the second half, resulting in players from both sides receiving official cautions from the umpires.

- NZ Herald

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