New Zealand shocked Australia to win their first Netball World Cup in 16 years at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena today.
The Kiwis, who are ranked fourth in the world but have displayed their considerable quality throughout this tournament, won by the narrowest of margins – 52-51 – to end Australia’s recent dominance of this competition.
The Silver Ferns, whose last World Cup title came in 2003, took control of the contest late in the second quarter and didn’t give up their advantage as captain Laura Langman led her side to success with help from some superb shooting from Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio.
The two teams had met 16 times in Netball World Cup history – with New Zealand winning just four of them – and it was the seventh time the teams had contested a World Cup final, including four years ago in Sydney.
Australia made four changeS from the side that beat South Africa in the semi-final and captain Caitlin Bassett, who came in for Caitlin Thwaites, started in dominating fashion as she made her first three goal attempts.
The Silver Ferns were not as clinical and Folau, who made her 148th international appearance becoming the second most capped player in New Zealand history, got off to a difficult start missing two of her first three goal attempts.
Neither side could get into their free-flowing play in an error-plagued opening with both team’s defensive play forcing mistakes, but it was the experienced Bassett who was proving to be the difference as she continued to shoot perfectly to help Australia to an 8-4 lead after eight minutes.
New Zealand began to establish themselves in the contest and they capitalised on a poor pass from Jo Weston to reduce the deficit to one at 9-8. Momentum was with the Silver Ferns and despite their disappointing 71.4% shooting compared to Australia’s 100%, the first quarter finished level at 10-10.
The Silver Ferns averaged 61% possession in the first quarter, but they failed to make that count, and Australia started the second period much more assured and protective of the ball. Still nothing could separate the two sides as the pair traded goals and when any team did miss, they managed to grab the rebound and put it away.
Bassett and Folau were showing how vital they were to their side as they both continued to create and put away scoring opportunities. Ekenasio was also displaying her shooting range, making all seven of her goal attempts in the second quarter.
New Zealand were finding goals much easier to come by, but Australia were not giving them an inch until the final minute of the half when a loose pass from Kelsey Browne was intercepted and Ekenasio increased the gap to two for the first time in the quarter.
Folau followed that up with another goal with seconds remaining on the clock and New Zealand took a 28-25 lead into half time.
The Silver Ferns carried that momentum into the opening stages of the third quarter as the built on their advantage, taking a 31-26 lead with five minutes played as Folau and Ekenasio continued to shoot well.
Australia’s coach Lisa Alexander replaced Steph Wood with Gretel Tippett at half time, but the change didn’t provide the attacking spark the Diamonds were hoping for and they trailed 36-29 with seven minutes remaining in the quarter.
New Zealand continued to maintain their advantage as Folau and Ekenasio, who were assisted brilliantly by Gina Crampton and Langman, dominated the Australia defence. The Diamonds struggled to turn over the ball, but they finally managed to force a significant one late in the quarter and they were able to reduce the deficit to four, so they trailed 41-37 going into the final quarter.
The Diamonds raced out of the blocks in the fourth quarter and they cut the deficit to one after three straight goals to start the period. Folau and Ekenasio kept the scoreboard ticking for New Zealand as the lead bounced between one and two goals.
A poor pass from Bassett allowed the Silver Ferns to re-establish their four-point gap. However, the defending champions responded again, and a Folau miss in between three Bassett goals reduced the lead to one again.
With five minutes remaining, New Zealand led 48-47 and a Bassett error allowed that to be extended to 51-48 by the Silver Ferns. Back came Australia with a turnover of their own and entering the final 90 seconds there was one goal in it.
Australia couldn’t find that elusive turnover, however, and New Zealand became world champions, sparking jubilant scenes among the Kiwi contingent.
Elsewhere, England bounced back from their semi-final loss to the Kiwis to claim bronze with a 58-42 victory over South Africa.
In Tracey Neville’s last game as England coach, the Roses claimed their third successive World Cup bronze medal as they were too strong for the Proteas, who had to settle for fourth in the competition.
Backed once again by a vocal home crowd, England repeated a similar performance to the one they had produced against South Africa earlier in the tournament when they ran out 58-47 winners as Jo Harten and Helen Housby impressed.
Both sides entered the contest off the back of disappointing, narrow defeats, but neither team showed any signs of it affecting their play as the momentum of the contest swung back and forth in the lively opening exchanges.
Lenize Potgieter got South Africa off to a positive start, making her first five goal attempts and Housby, who started the game at goal shooter for England, also made a perfect start netting her first three shots as the score was 6-6 at the midway point.
As the quarter wore on, England began to force some turnovers from South Africa and as Harten settled into the game after missing her first shot of the contest, the Roses extended their lead to a many as four.
A turnover at the expense of Serena Guthrie, however, allowed South Africa to reduce the deficit back to one goal, but Harten scored her ninth consecutive goal of the quarter with just over ten seconds to go to give England a 14-12 lead.
The second quarter began with both sides showcasing their quality passing and movement as the ball moved quickly up and down the court. England were given the opportunity to build on their advantage when Maryka Holtzhausen missed her third goal attempt from seven and Housby made no mistake as England took an 18-14 lead.
England’s defence was continuing to force South Africa into errors and Harten and Housby were making them pay. The Roses’ lead was up to 23-16 at the halfway stage of the quarter after three straight goals from Housby.
The same pattern continued in the remaining minutes of the quarter as South Africa struggled to make any inroads into England’s lead, and it began to grow. Despite Potgieter keeping the scoreboard ticking for the Proteas, Housby (10/10) and Harten (5/5) were equally as good, scoring all 15 of their goal attempts as the Roses led 29-22 at half time.
South Africa coach Norma Plummer, who took charge of her 50th international for the Proteas, would have been looking for a response from her players as the second half began but it was England who started the better, scoring four of the first five goals.
Aided by captain Guthrie and Natalie Haythornthwaite, Harten and Housby continued to rack up the goals as England extended their advantage to twelve with four minutes remaining.
Potgieter and Holtzhausen both shot well for South Africa in the third quarter, but the Proteas’ general attacking play lacked consistency whereas England’s just seemed to get better. The Roses continued to build their lead and led by 14 heading into the final quarter.
The bronze medal was in the grasp of England as they began the final 15 minutes of the World Cup and the crowd knew it too ,as they created a party atmosphere as the final buzzer edged ever closer.
South Africa improved early on in the final period and began to force errors from England but any attempts to reduce the deficit were halted by Holtzhausen’s inconsistent shooting performance as she made just one of her opening five attempts.
England attacking duo of Housby and Harten just continued to shine and the host’s advantage continued to build. The Roses were much more relaxed and looked a different side from the one that had struggled against New Zealand.
As the clock ticked down, Neville began to make changes including bringing on goal shooter Rachel Dunn, who received an enormous reception as the home crowd acknowledged her and her bronze-medal winning team-mates.
South Africa’s Karla Pretorius said: “What a journey it was for us. I feel like in this last game, we maybe didn’t play our own game, and it was because of the game they brought to us, so well done them – it was a great performance from them once again.”
England’s Rachel Dunn said: “It was a close game yesterday, but there are close margins at the top of this sport. We were all a bit devastated yesterday, but we had time to deal with that and then today it was all about bronze. Everyone wanted to go out there and fight for it, and the girls put in an amazing performance and got that medal.”
England 58-42 South Africa
Australia 51-52 New Zealand