The Australia-New Zealand rivalry delivered in spades with arguably the game of the tournament so far on the final day of preliminaries as semi-final matches were finalised.
The Diamonds, Silver Ferns and England had already qualified before the final day of stage two matches, with just opponents and final standings within Groups F and G left to be decided.
The Aussies prevailed in an absolute nail-biter as New Zealand’s Maria Folau missed what would have been the leveller with just seconds left on the clock, while a strong start set England on the path for a 11-goal win over South Africa.
Australia v New Zealand
The clash of the classic rivals more than lived up to the hype as Australia scraped home with a 50-49 win in Liverpool.
A strong first have saw Australia up by six goals at the main break, but New Zealand made the changes it needed to at half time and went back at the Aussies hard.
The Silver Ferns had six gains and four intercepts in the third term as they slotted 14/15 attempts to narrow the deficit to four goals heading into the final quarter.
Feeling a surge of self-belief, the Silver Ferns went all out in the last quarter, getting within a goal in the first five minutes before Australia restored a tiny bit of breathing space.
New Zealand goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio would not be denied as she played her heart out, putting through 11 of 14 attempts in the final term – the Diamonds as a whole only managed 10 attempts for the quarter – and levelled the scores with 1:20 left to play.
But Caitlin Bassett’s cool head under pressure saw the Aussie capitalise on their next centre pass, and the defensive end of the court held up their end of the bargain with brilliant pressure in the final 45 seconds of the game.
With the intensity high, a collision in the Silver Ferns’ circle saw Folau awarded a free shot on goal in the final seconds. But from a fair distance out, her attempt bounced back of the rim and Diamonds goal keeper Courtney Bruce managed to take possession in the scramble that ensued, just in time for the final whistle to secure a one-goal win for the Aussies.
Caitlin Bassett: The joy of having someone of Caitlin Bassett’s calibre at goal shooter in a big clash! The GIANTS’ focal point in attack stood up to immense pressure to be the best-performing shooter in the match. Bassett put through 37 of 41 attempts – her 90 per cent accuracy the best of anyone in the game – including all eight attempts in a huge final term as Australia scraped across the line by a goal.
Jamie-Lee Price: The GIANTS’ wing defence was in fine form during Australia’s biggest challenge of the World Cup so far and was involved in two crucial pieces of play. A brilliant intercept in the second quarter broke the Silver Ferns’ centre pass and launched Australia into attack, culminating with a Bassett goal. Price also produced a deflection in the final 30 seconds of the match that, while the Silver Ferns had the throw in, ran down a few extra vital seconds on the clock and broke New Zealand’s momentum in the attacking passage of play.
Price played the first half in wing defence, before being subbed for Paige Hadley in the third term. But with the Silver Ferns closing the margin to just four goals that term, she was brought back on to try to quell the influence of New Zealand wing attack Shannon Saunders.
England v South Africa
England also enters the semi-finals undefeated after a 58-47 win over South Africa.
The Roses found their touch early and pulled away to a 19-11 lead in the first term on the back of some accurate shooting. Jo Harten put through all nine attempts in goal shooter, while goal attack Helen Housby netted 10 of 11 attempts. The Proteas were comparatively shaky at the other end of the court, capitalising on 11 of their 15 attempts.
The early lead was a nerve-settler for the Roses, who extended their lead by three goals in the second term, despite having one fewer attempt than the Proteas, as Harten and Housby’s formidable form in the circle continued.
South African goal attack Maryka Holtzhausen missed all four of her shots in the second quarter, but bounced back in a big way in the third term, netting 9/10. But with considerable ground to make up, it wasn’t enough as England edged further in front, leading 43-30 at the final change.
The Roses made three interchanges during the final quarter, resting the likes of former GIANT Serena Guthrie, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Harten as they finished the game with a 15-17 term.
Jo Harten: The GIANTS goal attack continued her stellar World Cup form against the Proteas, putting through her first 18 attempts on goal, including a string of four consecutive goals during the second quarter. Harten’s first miss didn’t come until the final minute of the second quarter, and only three of her 33 attempts didn’t go in. After another brilliant performance – she also had four feeds and three goals assists – Harten was subbed off for a rest in the 10th minute
The four semi-finalists will enjoy a rest day before Saturday’s first round of finals.
Australia, which finished top of Group F, will take on South Africa, who was ranked second in the Group G, at 8pm AEST on Saturday.
New Zealand will take on Group G’s top team England at 12am AEST Sunday.
The winners will progress to the gold medal match on Sunday, while losing teams from the semi-finals will compete for the bronze medal.
The remaining teams will be competing for rankings, starting Friday with Sri Lanka and Singapore competing for 15th spot, while Samoa and Fiji are competing for 13th spot.
In the play-offs for the remaining rankings, Zimbabwe takes on Jamaica and Malawi Faces Jamaica.
In addition to the semi-finals on Saturday, Barbados and Scotland will compete for 11th spot and Northern Ireland and Trinidad & Tobago will compete for 9th.