The Silver Ferns are striving to shed their second-best tag by simulating the execution of last-minute plays as they seek to square the trans-Tasman netball series in New Zealand on Saturday night.
With precious little opportunity to remedy their failings following the 51-53 first test loss in Christchurch on Wednesday night, a focus for New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken has been finessing her players’ mental and tactical approach deep in the fourth quarter — a time frame where the world champion Australians have consistently proved superior.
Australian coolness under fire was again evident at Westpac Arena, where the depleted Diamonds succeeded in protecting a slender buffer on the run home.
It is a pattern that has emerged since the balance of power transferred to Australia after their gold medal loss to New Zealand at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Aitken, who has had to endure her side losing six of their last seven tests against the Australians, admitted keeping composure down the stretch was a key consideration before the New Zealand component of a four-match rubber ends at Vector Arena.
“Our ability to convert a turnover under that countdown clock is really important,” she said.
“We’ve looked at the scenario: ’30 seconds left and we need to score this one.’ We’ve upped the intensity in that respect.”
New Zealand were again within reach of victory in game one before a pass from Laura Langman was intercepted, and transferred down court for Susan Pratley to secure the two-goal win.
That costly blemish typified the Ferns’ inability to click at key moments. The turnover statistics also illustrated their inadequacies — New Zealand converted just eight of their 22 turnovers in goals, a more ruthless Australia scored from 17 of 23.
“That statistic is a concern,” Aitken admitted.
“We have to have the courage to let the ball go, but we have to choose those options wisely.”
“We’re looking the links through from defence to attack — that’s certainly an area we’re not happy with.”
Aitken was coy on whether positional or personnel changes were possible tomorrow, reiterating she was happy with Irene van Dyk and Langman’s first test outings at goal attack and wing attack respectively.
But her counterpart Norma Plummer thought the Ferns would make alterations.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see their line-up quite changed,” she said.
“I think maybe (uncapped defender) Katrina Grant could be out there on the court …. and I think (Daneka) Wipiiti will possibly be one they might put out behind van Dyk in the circle.”
Wipiiti has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Maria Tutaia, though Grant is more likely to feature in next month’s three-test home series against England.