It’s crunch time at the Netball World Cup for the penultimate day of the competition with heavyweights Australia taking on South Africa and the home side in England up against New Zealand.
In other positional playoff games, Scotland beat Barbados and Northern Ireland went down to Trinidad and Tobago. Zimbabwe will take on Uganda and Jamaica play Malawi on the final day for standings.
Australia v South Africa
In a pulsating clash, Australia held on for a 55-53 win and secured a spot in the Gold Medal match, but there was no questioning South Africa’s determination as they pushed the Diamonds all the way. South Africa made a mockery of their fifth-placed world ranking to run the 11-time champions closer than many expected – with the two-goal winning margin making this the joint-closest World Cup semi-final ever.
Australia coach Lisa Alexander sprung a couple of surprises with her starting line-up, with both Caitlin Bassett and Courtney Bruce starting on the bench. The sides exchanged goals in the early stages, as an absorbing first quarter progressed. However, Australia’s intense pressure in the middle of the court was beginning to tell, and after they turned possession over, Caitlin Thwaites took the opportunity to put them ahead for the first time at 8-7.
The Diamonds stretched their lead out to 14-10 after the first quarter and were continuing to find their shooters with comparative ease, with Thwaites and Tippett not wasting any opportunities that came their way. The lead stretched out to six, and was held at that margin for a period of time as Lenzie Potgieter’s accuracy helped to keep the Proteas just about within touching distance.
South Africa needed a huge effort in the third quarter – and they got it. Both sets of shooters were exceptional in the early stages, as the margin stuck at seven. However, when the Proteas needed a hero, up stepped Karla Pretorius, whose supreme reading of the game and timing turned possession over for the South Africans, who were finally able to take advantage of a glimpse of Australian weakness.
Three goals in a row from Potgieter and Maryka Holtzhausen brought them back to within three before Australia held the margin at four in the early stages of the fourth quarter. But when they were penalised for held ball, the South Africans – not to mention the majority of the crowd who had adopted the Proteas as they mounted their comeback – sensed an opportunity.
With ten minutes left, Potgieter reduced the deficit to one (45-44) and the already electric atmosphere was cranked up another level. Two crucial Australian interventions looked to have put the game firmly back in Australia’s grasp, but the Proteas weren’t done, and again came back to 50-49. That vital additional turnover just proved elusive though, with the unerring accuracy of Thwaites helping to edge Australia over the line, 55-53.
After Caitlin Bassett’s cool head and accuracy helped Australia scrape through the final preliminary match against New Zealand, coach Lisa Alexander turned to Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett to start the game. The duo didn’t get any game time in the previous match against the Silver Fans so Alexander made sure all her shooters had enough miles in the legs. It also gave the Proteas’ defensive duo of Karla Pretorious and Phumza Maweni a different challenge, rather than coming up against their former Lightning teammates in Bassett and Steph Wood. Wood came on at GA for the final quarter to sink 2/3 while Thwaites (30/30) and Tippett (23/23) shot at an incredible 100 per cent for the whole game.
Jamie-Lee Price looks to be Lisa Alexander’s preferred choice for WD at the moment, playing out the whole game in that position. Price was strong across the entire match while also showing plenty of patches of brilliance that came at crucial times. First it was an excellent piece of work – combined with a held ball call – that allowed the Diamonds to stretch their lead out to 14-10 after the first quarter. Then, when the Proteas were coming hard and back within one goal late in the final quarter, Price came up with a crucial turnover to help the Diamonds hold on for the two-goal win.
England v New Zealand
New Zealand produced a stunning performance as they advanced to the Netball World Cup final with a 47-45 victory over a brave England.
New Zealand had won 13 of the 14 World Cup meetings between the two sides, and it was the Silver Ferns who raced out of the blocks, as Jane Watson in particular forced early errors from England and Maria Folau was a perfect five from five in goal attempts.
The Roses didn’t get off the mark until Helen Housby converted to make it 5-1 four minutes into the contest. The first goal on the board for the Roses proved to be a kick-start, and they began to settle into the contest, forcing New Zealand into errors of their own, as Jo Harten and Housby reduced the deficit to 6-5.
Folau kept the scoreboard ticking for New Zealand as they led 12-9 at the end of the period. England opened the scoring in the second quarter through Harten and they looked more confident in their all-round play, levelling the contest at 13-13. The Silver Ferns led by six with six minutes remaining until half time, but England once again fought their way back into the contest. The Roses scored ten of the next 11 goals to completely turn the game on its head and lead 24-21 at half time.
New Zealand had the better of the opening exchanges in the third and they scored three straight goals to level the contest at 25-25. England were finding a way to keep their noses in front, however, including some superb athleticism from Serena Guthrie as the two sides continued to trade goals. The back-and-forth continued until a loose pass from Housby allowed New Zealand to force a turnover which Ekenasio converted, giving New Zealand a 32-31 lead.
It was the swing of momentum the Silver Ferns had been looking for and Ekenasio and Folau combined to extend New Zealand’s lead to four before Housby’s last shot of the quarter reduced the score to 36-33. With the score at 38-34 early in the final quarter, Harten forced a New Zealand turnover which allowed England to reduce the deficit to two. However, the impressive shooting from Folau and Ekenasio didn’t allowed the Roses to build any kind of momentum.
Both sides were beginning to feel the pressure as the quarter ticked on and England once again reduced the deficit to two with five minutes remaining, but New Zealand kept responding as the contest continued to ebb and flow. Harten made the score 45-43 with two minutes left on the clock, but New Zealand managed to control the tempo and keep possession, as their nerveless shooters helped to take them into a familiar-looking World Cup final.
It was a nervous start by the Roses’ attacking end with Jo Harten starting in GS but it was the Silver Ferns’ ‘Keeper Jane Watson in everything early. Harten missed her first attempt but followed it up with a brilliant intercept with Housby finally shooting the Roses’ first with the score at 5-0. After turning a three-goal deficit into a three-goal lead at half-time, Housby and Harten switched positions to start the third. Despite the Silver Ferns’ comeback, Harten stayed in GA with Housby in GS and it paid dividends just minutes into the fourth with two big turnovers in one passage of play by the typically demonstrative Harten starting another Roses fightback. But it was the Ferns who held their nerve with the Roses just unable to close the final gap.
The Big One
It all comes down to this as familiar foes Australia take on New Zealand in the Gold Medal match. The action kicks off at 4:45pm Liverpool time. Aussie fans set your alarms, the championship will be decided live on Channel 9 from 1:10am late Sunday night/early Monday morning. Prior to that, England will face South Africa in the Bronze Medal match.