Silver Ferns 62
On a night full of emotional tributes at Claudelands Arena, the Silver Ferns delivered a fittingly passionate performance to fend off England for the Taini Jamison trophy.
After a 49-46 loss in Napier at the weekend, the Ferns were facing the reality of being the first New Zealand side to drop a series against the Roses in 61 years of competition. But the Ferns showed huge character in a tense, and at times heated battle, to ensure they celebrated skipper Katrina Grant's 100th test in style.
Grant last night joined Lesley Rumball, Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman, Leana de Bruin, Maria Tutaia and Casey Kopua - the woman she replaced as Ferns skipper - in the exclusive group of players to reach the magic milestone.
It was also a big night for Kopua, who announced her retirement from international netball earlier this year, was officially farewelled in front of her home crowd in Hamilton.
There were hallmarks of Kopua's leadership in Grant's performance last night, with the athletic defender leading a committed defensive effort to help the Ferns claw their way back from a 30-26 deficit at the halftime.
Grant proved the most productive defender on court, finishing with four deflections, three intercepts and three rebounds, but the stat she was most proud of was the scoreboard. She admitted she was relieved she didn't have to dwell on a loss on such a big occasion for her personally.
"You never want to lose a game on your milestone, plus with Taini Jamison being here and the 1967 World Cup team here as well, there were quite a few things going on and we wanted to make them proud as well," said Grant.
The home side were put in the position of playing catch-up after a woeful 9-17 second quarter effort. After struggling to adjust in the first quarter to the re-jigged New Zealand shooting end featuring Maria Tutaia at goal shoot and Bailey Mes out at goal attack, the
English defensive end noticeably ramped up their aggression in the second spell.
Silver Ferns coach Janine Southby said her side did not respond well to the lift indefensive intensity from the visitors.
"We just got a little bit sloppy with some of our passing, we didn't take as much care and England are a quality side, they have hugely experienced defenders and I think we panicked a little bit."
In keeping with the see-sawing nature of the match, the Ferns clawed their way back to lead by one heading into the final spell, setting up another tight finish to the match.
While the Ferns came away with the win, the experienced England side, which features some of the stars of the Australian domestic competition in Geva Mentor, Serena Guthrie and Jo Harten, have asked some tough questions of the Ferns side over the past two weeks. The ability of the Roses to unpick the Ferns' gameplan twice in four matches will remain a nagging concern for coach Janine Southby as she looks ahead to the Commonwealth Games, with the two sides set to meet in pool play in next year's tournament.
Southby's short term focus, however, will be preparing her side for a four-test Constellation Cup series against Australia next month, which is certain to be full of feeling after the Ferns' snatched the Quad Series crown away from the Diamonds last month.
The team for that series will be named tomorrow, after the national selectors were forced to undertake the tough task of condensing the 16 players that have taken the court over the past six games into their strongest 12.
Southby joked she is not sure whether the past few weeks have made things clearer in her mind, or murkier.
"The positive is we have to make some tough calls. I can't say enough about the players. They've really put their hand up and made us think hard," she said.