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Constellation Cup: Keeping the Kiwis in the series

New Zealand remembered how to play zone defence and duly beat the Diamonds. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Expert
25th October, 2015
8

Well, the unthinkable has happened. New Zealand have won a game of netball.

They might as well wave goodbye to the Rugby World Cup right now, because I just can’t see that the sporting gods could have any further goodwill towards the Land of the Long White Cloud stored in their little potion cabinet.

The game started well enough for the Diamonds, carrying on their blistering form from the first two Tests. Youngster Gretel Tippett earned her second cap, this time getting the start at wing attack.

One can only hope that this starts a worldwide trend of super tall wing attacks and soon we see 193-centimetre Caitlin Bassett, 196-centimetre Romela Aiken and 198-centimetre Jhaniele Fowler-Reid galloping around the court like uncertain baby deer, wondering what on earth this is all about and cursing Tippett’s name.

Also getting her first start was debutant wing defence Ashleigh Brazill, known for her speed and insanely high vertical jump – it says a lot about netball’s entrenched fear of basketball that they don’t let her in the shooting circle. Netball is obviously terrified of slam dunks.

The home side cruised into the first break, up 15-9 and feeling like they could probably hand their bibs to the NetSetGo kids in the crowd and take a wander down to the pub.

The second quarter was a little tighter, with the Silver Ferns bringing on the experienced Jodi Brown at goal attack and performing the customary switch of the goal defences, as they understand that one mere mortal cannot be expected to contend with Natalie Medhurst for an entire game.

Sharni Layton, relishing the opportunity to play in her favourite position of ‘not the bench, please anything but that’ was in fine form, terrorising the New Zealand shooters and making them pay for daring to be born on a different side of the Tasman. They were suitably apologetic.

Despite the stronger showing for the Ferns, the Diamonds managed to pull their lead out further and went into half-time leading 28-21.

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Now, what happened at half-time has not yet been confirmed. Maybe the Diamonds indeed went to the pub and came back after downing a few beers, simply went home for a nap and convinced a group of lookalikes to take the court in their place, or something more sinister – perhaps some kind of alien body switching between the two teams was done during the break?

Whatever it was, this was a game of two halves. Much like every game of netball really, however in this case, the two halves were really quite different from each other.

The start of the half seemed like things were going to continue along much the same as they had been, despite scoring machine and rabbit enthusiast Caitlin Bassett moving to the bench to make way for Caitlin Thwaites.

However, before long the New Zealanders had forced their way back into the game, turning the ball over with alarming ease and remembering that it was the effective zone defence that had worked for them the other day, not the ineffective one. If only there was an easy way to remember which one worked and which one didn’t.

Paige Hadley joined the game at wing attack, in the hopes of confusing the Ferns’ wing defence Kayla Cullen, who had become so accustomed to running along looking up in the air to find Tippett that she might forget to look down and see 173-centimetre Hadley.

However, Hadley forgot that Cullen draws her power from the insults of her opposition and decided to engage in a little trash talk, calling Cullen’s home town “Dorkland”. Understandably enraged, Cullen had an outstanding finish to the game and Hadley has well and truly learnt her lesson.

The Kiwis rampaged into the final break and levelled the scored at 36-all.

Coach Lisa Alexander turned to her bench to find another goal shooter for the final quarter. To her horror, she had run out of Caitlins. Unsure what to do, she threw Erin Bell on, consoling herself with the thought that at least her name still ended in ‘in’.

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The ‘short’ shooting duo of Bell and Medhurst (both 178 centimetres) didn’t see the ball for a while – as New Zealand played like a team who were familiar with the rules and skills of netball – but once they did, they looked fun and exciting, which is puzzling considering both of them have spent a significant amount of time in Adelaide.

Despite the best efforts of Layton to create turnovers, her teammates seemed determined to throw the ball to the Ferns at every possible opportunity, which must have been frustrating.

With the game in the balance and less than three minutes remaining, Alexander decided it was the perfect opportunity to give 21-year-old Joanna Weston her debut cap. Weston is still wondering what on earth happened and whether she dreamt the whole thing.

But it the end it were the Silver Ferns who took the game, 50-47. The Diamonds didn’t feel too bad about disappointing the spectators, because for all the noise they made during the game, the players assumed a large group of quiet churchgoers had been bussed in by mistake. When they realised they had actually been genuine fans, they still didn’t feel bad because at least they were only Victorians.

So now it’s on to Perth on Friday, with both teams having a chance of taking home the Constellation Cup (in theory that is). The Diamonds will be looking forward to spending the entirety of their match payment on a regular coffee (just one for the whole team to share) and to once again crushing the hearts, minds and spirits of the women in black.

Until then, I bid you adieu.