The first ever Test meeting between the sides pitted Group B winners New Zealand against Zimbabwe who finished as runners-up in Group A after a nail-biting 51-49 victory over Northern Ireland yesterday afternoon.
Zimbabwe, who handed a tournament debut to Adelaide Muskwe, once again brought their flair and enthusiasm to the M&S Bank Arena as the Gems sang and danced their way onto court, delivering the vibrancy that has captured so many hearts in the tournament so far.
The Gems translated their pre-game energy into the early stages of the contest as they matched New Zealand, and the score was tied at 5-5 after four minutes, as the Gems’ Pauline Jani and Sharon Bwanali combined to convert their first five goal attempts.
The back-and-forth contest continued as both sides traded goals, but with the scores tied at 8-8, the Silver Ferns scored eight of the next nine goals to build a seven-goal advantage as Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio began to find their shooting range.
Despite Zimbabwe’s Jani and Bwanali shooting a perfect ten from ten in goal attempts, scoring opportunities decreased as the quarter went on as New Zealand stepped up their defence. By the end of the quarter, the Silver Ferns had increased their lead to 21-10.
As has been the case throughout the entire tournament, New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua continued to tinker with her attacking combinations as Bailey Mes entered the game to partner Folau. Together, they scored seven goals in the opening stages of the second quarter to build the Silver Ferns’ lead.
Offensively, Zimbabwe continued to stutter, struggling to create many scoring opportunities. When they did, however, Jani – who finished the half with her 100% record in tact – and Ursula Ndlovu kept the scoreboard ticking over.
At the other end, New Zealand continued to dominate the Zimbabwe defence as Mes and Folau scored 19 of their 22 goal attempts to extend their team’s lead to 40-18 at half time.
Both sides made attacking changes to begin the third quarter as Ta Paea Selby-Rickit replaced Mes for New Zealand and Joice Takaidza, the top goalscorer in the competition entering stage two, came on for Jani for the Gems. Both players converted their opening goal attempt.
New Zealand continued to capitalise on any slight Zimbabwe error and the Silver Ferns were clinical in their attacking play as both Selby-Rickit and Folau shot at 100% before Folau was replaced by Ekenasio.
Taking a 59-26 lead into the fourth quarter, New Zealand continued to control proceedings and despite Sharleen Makusha keeping the Zimbabwe score moving, the Silver Ferns were never in any trouble as Selby-Rickit and Ekenasio shot a combined 95% in the final period.
The victory for New Zealand takes them to eight points as they look to secure their place in the top two of Group F and advance to the semi-finals. Zimbabwe will be determined to get back to winning ways when they take on Barbados in their next game.
New Zealand captain Laura Langman said:
“It wasn’t too bad. I thought it was great to see us weather the storm at the start and then get into our business towards the middle to later end of the first quarter. I thought it (the performance) was pretty good to be fair.”
Zimbabwe’s Pauline Jani said:
“It was a nice experience to play against New Zealand. We learned a lot, because these girls are good. We are ranked 13 in the world, so we learned a lot from New Zealand.”