Australia have survived their sternest test at the Netball World Cup, holding out a hard-charging New Zealand to win a thriller 50-49 in Liverpool.
Even though little was at stake, the trans-Tasman rivals fought out easily the best game of a tournament that has been dominated by one-sided fixtures through the first week.
Both teams were guaranteed a place in Saturday’s semi-finals yet they played with intensity throughout, particularly in the final quarter when New Zealand gobbled into a lead that was as big as nine goals midway through the third quarter.
With the scores locked 49-49, captain Caitlin Bassett sunk a goal to hand Australia the advantage.
New Zealand’s Maria Folau had a chance to level with a shot five seconds from the end but missed, handing the Diamonds a 12th win from their past 13 meetings.
The result means Australia’s semi-final will be against the loser of a match later in the session between unbeaten nations England and South Africa.
Lisa Alexander’s team were reminded by New Zealand that a 12th title will be no easy matter.
They dominated for most of the first three quarters, with Alexander’s surprise selection of Steph Wood over Gretel Tippett paying off.
The elusive Wood created speed in the attacking circle while the Silver Ferns looked rattled at times against the aggressive Diamonds defensive pairing of Courtney Bruce and Jo Weston.
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua made countless changes throughout the match and it seemed to pay off over the closing stages as her fresher players finished strongly.
In contrast, Alexander barely altered her lineup.
Paige Hadley’s introduction at wing defence in the third quarter was the exception but she made way for starter Jamie-Lee Price in the final stanza.
Alexander said she had learned plenty if a trans-Tasman final decides the silverware on Sunday for a sixth successive World Cup.
“I’m really pleased that we toughed it out but we had some silly pieces of play,” she said.
“I think we’ve set ourselves up really well for the finals so we’ve just got to get out there and go a little bit harder in that last quarter.”
Bassett finished with 37 goals from 41 shots while Wood sunk 13 from 16.
Folau’s 21 from 24 were mostly from long range although her late miss was one of her closer efforts.