Ferns claim hard-fought win

Silver Ferns' goal attack Maria Tutaia made a strong return last night. Photo: Getty Images
Silver Ferns' goal attack Maria Tutaia made a strong return last night. Photo: Getty Images
The Silver Ferns have opened the Taini Jamison series with a hard-fought win over England in Porirua, going some way to put things right after last week's shock Quad Series loss.

Like last week's match-up between the two sides in Auckland, England played with ferocious defensive intensity and precision and pace on attack. But unlike last week's match-up, when the blowtorch was applied over the final few minutes, the Silver Ferns ramped up a gear, rather than wilted, streaking to a 62-55 win.

While the scoreline looked convincing, it was a tough, niggly match. Up until the final three minutes little more than two goals separated the two sides for the match, with England leading for sustained periods - including the middle stages of the final period.

The addition of livewire defender Temalisi Fakahokotau, who has not played for the Ferns since 2014, late in the third period seemed to give the New Zealand side the added boost they needed, with her intimidating presence in the circle casting doubt in the minds of the English attack.

The Ferns had a point to prove after last week's disappointing loss. The New Zealand side was out-hustled defensively by a hungrier England team, and lost their cohesion on attack as the match wore on, falling to a 49-45 loss - their fifth defeat to the Roses in 88 meetings.

Adding further intrigue tonight's clash, the two sides finished off their Quad Series campaigns on very different notes with England going on to suffer a shock defeat of their own against South Africa, while the Ferns pulled off a brilliant 57-47 win over Australia to win the title for the first time.

That win was achieved without their regular frontline stars Kayla Cullen, who is working her way back from minor knee surgery, and Maria Tutaia, who missed the final two tests of the Quad Series due to bereavement leave.

Both players were back in the starting line-up last night, with Tutaia in particular making her impact felt early on, slotting some beautiful long-range shots in the opening stages to remind us all of her class.

Her shooting partner, Bailey Mes, did not display the same confidence, shooting 1/4 over the first seven minutes of the match as English star Geva Mentor picked up from where she left off in their last meeting, keeping the New Zealand shooter well occupied.

With Mentor keeping England in a steady flow of possession, the visitors raced out to a 5-2 lead and continued to dictate the pace for much of the opening spell. The Roses looked particularly dangerous on transition, with their speed out of the defence end preventing the Ferns from setting up their defensive structure that proved so successful against the Diamonds at the weekend.

A wobbly period from English shooters Jo Harten, who missed last week's match due to an undisclosed injury, and Helen Housby gave the Ferns the opportunity to claw their way back into the match later in the quarter, however, drawing level at 15-all at the first break.

With the New Zealand side lacking intensity on defence Janine Southby turned to Kelly Jury - the star on Sunday's big win over Australia - to make an impact, but Harten, Housby and wing attack Chelsea Pitman soon found a way around her 1.92m frame using ballspeed and footwork.

Down the other end of the court Mes continued to struggle to find her rhythm. While her shooting improved to 11/14, she did not look comfortable under the attention of Mentor, forcing Southby to introduce Te Paea Selby-Rickit just before halftime. Selby-Rickit's combination with her Steel teammates Gina Crampton and Shannon Francois helped settle the New Zealand attack, as they took a 29-28 lead at halftime.

The third quarter brought further changes to the Ferns line-up, with Grace Rasmussen introduced at wing attack. Rasmussen, who sat out the Quad Series, was under pressure to prove she is still a crucial cog in the New Zealand attack end, but she was kept quiet by athletic midcourter Serena Guthrie.

Despite coming under huge pressure from the England defence, the Ferns managed to push out to a 42-40 lead heading into the final turn, to set up another tense finish.

The two sides next face off in Napier on Sunday afternoon, before the series wraps up in Hamilton next Wednesday.

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