The Silver Ferns were flexible enough to recover from a horror start and beat Australia 46-41 in the first match of a two-test netball series in Melbourne today, captain Casey Williams said.
New Zealand were eight goals down after the first quarter, but the decision of coach Ruth Aitken to inject two youngsters on to the court paid immediate dividends as they turned around their game and played with enough confidence to hold out the Diamonds comfortably in the final moments.
“We wanted to come out and have a really good start but we didn’t and knew it was going to be a grind. And we really did that (grind),” said Williams, one of the stars of the game.
The Silver Ferns, without injured captain Julie Seymour, were “flexible enough to make the adaption that was needed,” Williams said.
Aitken admitted her team were “shell shocked” early on as Australia raced out to an 8-1 lead.
They rattled the New Zealanders with their bruising play and the exceptional skills of wing defence Julie Prendergast to end the first quarter 15-7 ahead.
The key was tightening up in the second quarter and “stopping the flow” of the Australian attack, said Aitken, after her 60th test win as national coach.
Undoubtedly, the arrival on court of 23-year-old wing attack Liana Barrett-Chase and 21-year-old defender Katrina Grant was instrumental in turning the New Zealanders’ game around.
Barrett-Chase, only brought into the side a week ago to replace Seymour, provided much needed oomph on attack, while Grant teamed up with Williams to pressure the Australian shooters into plenty of errors.
“We had faith in both of them,” Aitken said.
Barrett- Chase had some “good friends” alongside her, with five of the under-21 team from the last World Youth Cup on court with her in the second and third quarters.
Barrett-Chase said her hands were “shaking” when Aitken told her she would be taking the court in the second quarter, but she was able to settle down and was thrilled to be part of the win.
Shooters Irene van Dyk, in her 163rd international, compared with 162 for the entire Australian squad, and Maria Tutaia also settled in the second quarter after being denied possession early on.
They shot confidently from then on, with van Dyk recovering quickly after being floored by a hefty shove from Australian captain Mo’onia Gerrard in the early exchanges.
New Zealand drew to within one goal at 20-21 behind at halftime and it was game on.
They took the lead early in the third quarter, as Laura Langman directed play with precision in the midcourt and hovered around a four to five-goal margin before Australia pegged the margin back to two at the end of the quarter.
The Silver Ferns quickly regained that four-goal margin in the final quarter and while the Australians tried hard, the New Zealand defence was gritty enough to contain them comfortably.
Australian coach Norma Plummer praised her young team, saying experienced shooters Catherine Cox and Sharelle McMahon, both out injured, were missed badly.
“It’s a learning phase for some of them,” said Plummer, saying the inexperience was costly tonight.
Her captain, Gerrard, promised things would be a lot better for the hosts in the second test at Brisbane next Sunday.