Ferns level series with come-from-behind win

Kelly Jury of New Zealand defends during game four of the 2023 Constellation Cup series at Spark...
Silver Ferns defender Karin Burger shuts down Diamonds goal shoot Sophie Garbin during the final test of the Constellation Cup series in Auckland yesterday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The Silver Ferns showed their growing stature after clinching back-to-back wins over Australia with a riveting 53-50 win over the Diamonds in the fourth and final match of the Constellation Cup in Auckland yesterday.

With the series locked at two wins apiece, the Diamonds retained the Constellation Cup on goal percentage but the Silver Ferns can be happy with the strides they have made across the series while showing plenty of heart and resilience to win both matches during the New Zealand leg of the series.

The Diamonds rarely lose two in a row.

Braced for a backlash after keeping the series alive in the third test, the Silver Ferns knew consistency and backing up was the key focus.

After trailing by three at three-quarter time, the Silver Ferns hit the lead for the first time with seven minutes to go.

Australia refused to back down, levelling twice before courageous Silver Ferns defensive pressure won the day.

In-circle defenders Kelly Jury and Karin Burger were immense contributors, helping the Silver Ferns nail a decisive 15-9 final-quarter swing.

The blossoming midcourt of Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Maddy Gordon and Whitney Souness also showed defining growth, and in her first full game on her return from injury, shooter Grace Nweke, who converted 43 shots from 45 attempts, was an influential presence.

The Silver Ferns made just the one tweak to their starting lineup of the previous match with Burger getting the nod at goal defence in her 50th test.

The Diamonds made two changes, Sophie Garbin getting the start at goal shoot and Jamie-Lee Price picking up the wing defence bib.

The defensive pairing of Burger and Jury made a lively start for the Silver Ferns but once the Diamonds executed their familiar midcourt squeeze, the home side were pressed into a succession of turnovers.

With Garbin featuring prominently, the Diamonds skipped out to a six-goal advantage, prompting the injection of Souness into the pivot’s role of wing attack for the home side. The change had the desired effect as the fleet-footed Souness added the desired flow to the attack line.

The Silver Ferns hauled themselves back into the contest when trimming Australia’s advantage to a 15-12 lead at the first break.

It was an absorbing second stanza.

Momentum swings were short-lived as each team were guilty of soft turnovers at times but despite Australia’s ball speed and through-court flow having an impact, the Silver Ferns retained their resilience with some fine defensive efforts.

Respective shooters Nweke and Garbin were key figures, both rock-solid in their positioning and accuracy under the hoop.

Price provided plenty of defensive hustle for the Diamonds, prompting the introduction of Tiana Metuarau for Ameliaranne Ekenasio at goal attack late in the piece.

The Silver Ferns went on to win the quarter by one, leaving the Diamonds with a 28-26 lead at the main break.

Neither side took a backward step during a pulsating third stanza as both coaches made changes in a bid to break the standoff. The Silver Ferns twice came within a single goal of the Diamonds but could not take full toll of their opportunities.

The Silver Ferns defensive trio of Jury, Burger and Kate Heffernan did an excellent job of squeezing Australia’s attacking options, resulting in Kate Maloney being injected at centre and Cara Koenen into goal attack.

With the Diamonds just ahead, the Silver Ferns tweaked their midcourt with Souness moving to centre and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan into wing attack.

Australia turned the tables to win an absorbing third quarter by one, captain Liz Watson showcasing her poise and experience to help push the visitors to a 41-38 lead at the last turn and the contest still hanging in the balance.

Burger was named MVP.


Constellation Cup

The scores

Silver Ferns          53
Grace Nweke 43/45, Ameliaranne Ekenasio 10/10

Australia               50
Sophie Garbin 37/40, Kiera Austin 7/9, Cara Koenen 6/7

Quarter scores: New Zealand 12-15, 26-28, 38-41.