The Diamonds came up just short of claiming a sensational 12th World Cup title, being edged out by New Zealand, 52-51, in an extraordinary final.
Alexander explained the hurt that her players were feeling:
“They’re shattered. They’re young women who wanted desperately to win a World Cup, and show the netball world, particularly in Australia, that they were the real deal. They’re hurting at the moment.
“There wasn’t really a lot different (to the previous match between the two teams), as the score was only one goal the other way. I think it’s just the moments that happen – a tip or a touch one way, a call one way. When you’re competing and it’s so even, you can’t put your finger on one thing.”
Despite the Australians’ obvious disappointment, Alexander emphasised her pride in her players, and believes that, going forward, the memories of this defeat can be used as a positive.
“(I want them to ) hold their heads up. We’re terribly proud of them – they’ve done everything to its absolute nth degree from a high performance point of view. You couldn’t get athletes who are more professional, and I’m really, really proud of them.
“We want to make sure that people are hurting, and to remember that, because that’s what drives athletes to higher levels of performance and training, and that group need to do that.
“They’ve obviously learnt a lot from that, and this group pretty much in the main will go forward into the next cycle.”
After three successive titles, Australia were beaten in today’s final in Liverpool by New Zealand, 52-51.
“It’s tough. We’re so proud of the effort we’ve put it across the whole tournament. To have eight games in 10 days is huge and I think the way we fought it out and brought it back – we could have let them go.
“It sucks that they got it but a silver medal is (still) pretty impressive.”
Bassett was part of the Diamonds team which won the previous two finals, and she says that the winning mentality ingrained within the Australian set-up will ensure they come back from this disappointment.
“Everyone’s got that passion and that drive. That’s what drives us – that passion to play for your country.
“Lisa (Alexander, coach) told us in the changing room: ‘You’re still young and you’ve got so much talent’. We’re going to go again. That’s the message.
“We’ve had that taste and that experience. We want to be on that golden podium, so everyone’s got the drive to keep going.
“We have the depth but we feel like we’re good enough right now to be up there (winning World Cups). Every time we play we’re being chosen in this team for a reason. Lisa has that belief; she’s building something and it’s something special. I think we’re going to see big things from this group coming through in the next four years.”
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.
Australia built a substantial lead in the semi-final, but the Proteas fought back to narrow the gap to one goal in the fourth quarter, before Australia won by two – the joint-closest World Cup semi-final in history.
“It’s really special. Obviously it’s my first World Cup, and I guess that everyone was expecting us to make the final, but South Africa really pushed us all the way to the end, which is good for us, especially heading into the final.
“It tested us and it tested how we react under pressure.”
The game is Australia’s second close-run victory in a row, following their one-goal win over New Zealand in their final Group F game.
While acknowledging that there are things to improve on, Price says that the Diamonds’ strength of character is something to be proud of.
“We always knew there were going to be a lot of teams gunning for us – teams will always play their best game against us.
“I think especially because it was a semi-final, it’s another step up as everyone wants to make that final. Both teams today were desperate to get through, but I’m proud of the girls and how we pushed through.
“That’s what we need to work on. We get a really good lead but we haven’t been pushing through or looking after our possession, so I think it’s definitely something we need to improve on – if we are ahead we want to maintain our lead and not let the opposition back into the game.”
Australia’s final opponents will be decided when England and New Zealand meet in the second semi-final at 3pm.
In what was an absolutely pulsating game, South Africa made a mockery of their fifth-placed world ranking to run the holders and 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. For South Africa, Bongiwe Msomi – who limped out in the early stages of their previous match against England – was fit, and started at wing attack.
The South Africans were on the scoreboard first, through Lenize Potgieter, although she then missed an early chance to put daylight between the teams.
After that reprieve for Australia, the sides exchanged goals in the early stages, as an absorbing first quarter progressed. Nerves seemed to take hold of both midway through the quarter though, as a series of loose passes and some effective defensive pressure at both ends of the court put a temporary halt to the scoring at 6-6.
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.
Despite a couple of impressive interceptions by dynamic goal keeper Phumza Maweni, South Africa were unable to drag themselves back level, and an excellent piece of work by Jamie-Lee Price – combined with a held ball call against Potgieter – allowed the Diamonds to stretch their lead out to 14-10 after the first quarter.
Potgieter was again penalised for a held ball early in the second quarter, and mistakes were beginning to creep in elsewhere for the South Africans, as they were being forced to work hard for any piece of forward momentum.
The Australians, meanwhile, were continuing to find their shooters with comparative ease, and Thwaites and Tippett weren’t wasting any opportunities which came their way.
The lead stretched out to six, and was held at that margin for a period of time as Potgieter’s accuracy helped to keep the Proteas just about within touching distance.
However, that build-up of pressure told with a few minutes of the quarter remaining, as Paige Hadley and Jo Weston combined to force a turnover of possession. The ruthless nature of their team-mates’ shooting then ensured that the advantage was pushed out further, and although Tippett’s shot with the last action of the half didn’t land in time, the Diamonds still held a commanding 31-23 lead at the break.
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, and despite Thwaites having the final say in the quarter – and maintaining the Diamonds’ 100% record – the lead at the end of the third was down to 43-39.
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 – the first by Liz Watson and the second by Jamie-Lee Price – 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 – who finished at 100% – helping to edge Australia over the line, 55-53.
Australia’s Jo Weston said:
“We’re happy to make the final. It was pretty tough out there – their shooting circle and their defensive line were really impressive today, so although we weren’t as happy as we could have been with the second half, we had enough lead from our solid first-half performance to hold them out.”
South Africa’s Erin Burger said:
“I’m super proud. We knew we were representing our country and we had a lot to play for, and I think you could see that in our performance. We really left everything out on court – we wanted to have no regrets, and you could really see that in our performance.”
Bruce, who was Player of the Match as the Diamonds beat rivals New Zealand in the dying seconds on Thursday to confirm a semi-final fixture against South Africa, which will take place at 11:15am tomorrow.
She said post-match: “I guess that last 30 seconds was absolutely hectic. There was a lot of energy and emotion out there. It was a hard fought 60 minutes. It tested us the whole way, but I’m really proud of the girls, the way we finished that last 30 seconds, in particular, in the way we did, with that full team defensive effort.
“(It was) probably our first big test across all four quarters. We withstood the pressure really well in moments. Obviously, we still need to be able to ride out the momentum swings that are going our way and be able to push up from five goals, to six, to seven.”
Bruce, who now has 31 caps for her country, says that despite their impressive progress so far, Australia won’t be resting on their laurels.
Having won the three most recent World Cups – in Auckland, Singapore and Sydney – they arrived with only one objective: to win the tournament for a 12th time out of 17.
She explained: “We’ll do some recovery now and make sure we have got enough food into us, and then it will be a bit of recovery and start prepping.
“I think against South Africa, it’s going to be a huge challenge. They have had a fantastic tournament so far.”
The match to decide the winner of Group F more than lived up to its billing, coming down to the final few seconds as a New Zealand miss ensured Australia ran out winners by a one-goal margin: 50-49.
The Diamonds had established a significant lead at one point, but the Silver Ferns came roaring back to set up the astonishing closing minutes.
Of the fantastic finale to the game, Watson said:
“It’s just that rivalry we have with them. It’s always a tough battle and they definitely weren’t going to give up at half time and we knew that.
“I think it’s just that Aussie against New Zealand thing – it’s always going to go right down to the final whistle like it did.”
The close nature of the contest between the Antipodean rivals has set the scene perfectly for Saturday’s semi-finals, where they will be joined by England and South Africa.
The hosts face the Proteas this evening, the winner of which will face New Zealand in the last four, while the beaten side will tackle Australia for a place in the final.
In a frantic, end-to-end frantic match between the two sides of one of sport’s biggest rivalries, a last-gasp New Zealand miss ensured that the Australians took a 50-49 victory, topping Group F in the process.
The Diamonds are world number one and have won eight of the last seven meetings between these two teams.
In 15 previous World Cup clashes between the sides, who both won their groups in Preliminaries stage one, there had never been a winning margin of more than 11 goals, with a third of those games decided by just one goal.
The opening quarter played out exactly in the manner in which was anticipated, with the speed and quality on show from both sides of the very highest order.
Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood, however, were the attacking pair who found the net most frequently, missing one shot each as they scored 13 in the first 15 minutes.
Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio notched 10 between them, meaning New Zealand, the fourth-ranked team in the world, were trailing by three at the quarter mark.
The physically intense battle was proving to be a strong contender for the game of the tournament so far, and that continued as the match progressed.
New Zealand’s veteran goal defence Casey Kopua, who will retire after the tournament, and goalkeeper Jane Watson, had their work cut out at times against the speed and movement of Australia’s attack, but the Kiwis’ front players were as much of a handful at the other end.
A flurry of goals early on in the second quarter, with the teams taking it in turns to earn a cheer from the lively M&S Bank Arena crowd, continued the neck-and-neck nature of the encounter.
The Diamonds threatened to pull away, opening up a two-goal lead in the quarter at one stage, and a five-goal lead overall, but New Zealand were not to be put off.
The Kiwis dragged themselves level in the quarter on a couple of occasions but ultimately succumbed to the ruthless Bassett and Wood once again. At the interval, Australia led 28-22.
Having won the first two quarters by three goals, Australia needed to match that average in the second half to record a record margin of victory against the Kiwis.
Bassett and Wood needed no encouragement to continue finding the net, but New Zealand were in no mood to collapse.
The Kiwis won their first quarter of the match by 14 goals to 12 – closing the overall scoreline to 40-36 – to set up an exciting finish.
New Zealand pushed hard to draw level – getting within one goal with 10 minutes left on the clock and then again with 90 seconds to go – but even when they did level the scoreline, Australia edged in front once again.
New Zealand then worked the ball into a shooting position in the closing seconds of the game, but the usually-reliable Folau was unable to take the chance, meaning a sensational game finished 50-49 to Australia.
This result means Australia will face the loser of tonight’s Group G clash between England and South Africa in the semi-finals, while New Zealand will play the winner of that game in their last four tie.
Australia’s Liz Watson said:
“We put out a great first half and maybe then dropped off in the second, but we were ahead and they were chasing us, so we needed to stay calm, composed and keep scoring.”
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua said:
“I love that kind of game – it was great. One of the things I’m really pleased about is the team we had to be able to make changes and get ourselves back level there. I think the changes at certain times made a difference – Australia maybe didn’t react to those changes as well.”
With Australia and New Zealand having already booked their places in the semi-finals, England and South Africa also recorded their fifth wins of the competition (against Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda respectively) today.
While the identity of the final four is now known, the semi-final fixtures will be decided tomorrow, as two mouth-watering matches help to set up a fantastic day 7 of the tournament.
New Zealand and Australia meet at 10:30am, while England and South Africa bring the curtain down on the six-game day at 8pm.
All teams in Group F and G complete their Preliminaries stage two fixtures tomorrow, with the competition then moving forward into the Play-offs and Placing stage.
A full fixture list is available here.
Both the Diamonds and the Kiwis have progressed through their opening fixtures ruthlessly, but one team’s 100% record will be dashed when they meet in the Group F decider tomorrow morning.
With both teams already in the semi-finals, tomorrow’s clash will be the first of a final three games for each team which could result in either being crowned world champions.
“It’s business time now,” Langman admits.
“We’ve got to get up there and hold our levels. The Aussies are playing very clinically. They get ball, they create ball; so we’re going to have to work on our ball retention. We’re going to need all 12 bodies.
“There has been a bit of banter about which side of the draw teams are on, and I did watch the South Africa against Jamaica game the other day and thought I’d like to be on that side of the draw! But at the end of the day, you’ve got to beat everyone and you’ve got to be prepared to stand up and put out more than 60 minutes day after day if you want to be a world champion, so it doesn’t worry me.”
Both the Australians and the Silver Ferns have their first rest day of the tournament today, something which Langman is looking forward to.
“We don’t have as much flexibility as the cricketers, so we won’t be going down to London or anything like that. It’s a real opportunity to catch up with family and friends, and to just recharge. It’s a real treat to be over here in summer, so hopefully there will be sun and we can get out and about.”
Tomorrow’s match will deliver the next instalment of one of sport’s fiercest rivalries, but Langman believes that the recent dramatic cricket world cup final would also put increased significance on any meeting with hosts England in the latter stages of the tournament.
“I think New Zealand has quite a few rivalries now – I think we’ve just got one with England (after Sunday’s cricket world cup final, at which England narrowly beat the Black Caps), so it’s all about making friends!”