Silver Ferns 55
The 2015 Netball World Cup will go down as another tale of heartache for the Silver Ferns at the hands of the Australian Diamonds.
The brilliant Diamonds won the world title in Sydney last night on the back of a rampant 16-7 start, which, despite winning the final three quarters, the Ferns could not overcome.
Since finals were introduced to the World Cup format in 1991, New Zealand and Australia have met in six of the seven title deciders. The prevailing story of those finals has been that of Australia triumphing in tight encounters, with the largest winning margin being just four goals. And it was no different last night as the Diamonds, who at one stage led by 11 goals, overcame a spirited late charge from the Ferns to claim a 58-55 win and an 11th world title.
The Ferns had to deal with the consequences of "poking the bear" earlier in the tournament, after awakening the Australians to the threat the Kiwis posed with a stunning 52-47 win in pool play.
With a new-look attack line and bold new game plan, New Zealand caught the Diamonds off-guard last Sunday. That element of surprise was lost last night and so too the Ferns' composure early on as nerves and anxiety took hold on the big stage.
"The first quarter was a killer," said coach Waimarama Taumaunu.
"It was probably nervous tension I suspect. It was a big occasion and it took a little while for us to settle into our work and we didn't get any gain ball defensively to make up for a nervous front end."
By the first break Australia led 16-7. It was effectively game over.
The Silver Ferns won the final three periods, but as Taumaunu said "we couldn't recover, and against a team like Australia you tend not to".
Choking back tears in the post-match press conference a heartbroken Casey Kopua, the team's inspirational captain, said she was proud of the fight her side had shown.
"In the first quarter we were down by quite a bit and to bring that back and you can see in people's eyes that they really wanted it, that was a little tick for me because if they had of put their heads down or given up, that would have been really disappointing, but that never happened at any time," she said.
Kopua now plans to take time out to consider her international future. It is likely so too will several of the team's long-serving stars, including Laura Langman and Maria Tutaia, while retirement appears almost certainly on the cards for veterans Jodi Brown and Leana de Bruin, who brought up her 100th test appearance last night.
But the performances of some of the youngsters in the team over the past 10 days, including Bailey Mes, Grace Rasmussen and Kayla Cullen, who became virtually overnight frontliners for the Ferns, have given Taumaunu heart that the team will still be in good shape.
Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander was thrilled with the way her side dealt with the challenge. "It was much more difficult than Commonwealth Games, the spotlight was on us, the expectations were on us," she said.
All over in the first quarter
The Silver Ferns last night received another brutal reminder of Australia's dominance of netball as they effectively stormed away with the World Cup in the opening quarter.
Cue more scenes of Diamonds jubilation, emotional players leaping into the crowd to embrace family, and confetti raining down on the women in gold.
It was the third straight tournament where the likes of Casey Kopua, Laura Langman and Maria Tutaia have had to watch such scenes unfold.
The trio, who have been pillars of the Silver Ferns' line-up for a decade, now face the prospect of ending their careers without a world title.
After a disastrous 2014 season, not many people thought the Silver Ferns would be in last night's final. But the new-look side, emboldened by a new game plan that encouraged them to play a fearless, attacking brand of netball, proved their doubters wrong, storming through pool play and tipping the World Cup applecart with a stunning 52-47 win over Australia on day three.
Swept up in the confidence, enthusiasm and positivity from the Ferns' camp, you got the sense that this year might be different.
But fairytale endings don't happen often in New Zealand netball.