The Diamonds were in sparkling form again, sweeping aside Malawi 74-25 as the Queens were restricted to their lowest ever World Cup score.
Australia coach Lisa Alexander made a number of changes to her starting line-up as the Diamonds faced their fifth game in five days. Gretel Tippett started at goal attack, Liz Watson at centre and Jamie-Lee Price at wing defence as the holders looked to extend their impressive start to the tournament.
Malawi came into the game off the back of three successive wins, including a hard-fought, 47-43 triumph over Northern Ireland yesterday. Joyce Mvula started on the bench, with Alinafe Kamwala and Sindi Simtowe in the shooting positions for the Queens.
However they were starved of opportunities in a first quarter which highlighted the dynamic nature of the holders’ play. Caitlin Bassett and Gretel Tippett were flawless throughout the first 15 minutes, both shooting at 100% while also producing moments of fantastic interplay to work shooting chances for each other.
Their quality was reflected throughout the court, with the Diamonds first to pounce on anything, harrying Malawi and forcing frequent turnovers of possession as they worked the ball down the court with speed and precision to their shooters, who quickly accumulated a commanding lead – 21-2 at the end of the first quarter.
Jane Chimaliro came off the bench at goal attack at the start of the second quarter, and immediately made an impact as Malawi matched their total from the entire first quarter in the opening minutes of the second.
They traded goals with the Diamonds in the early stages, but despite Tippett recording the Australians’ first unsuccessful attempt on goal in the match two minutes into the second quarter, they didn’t take long to again get a firm grip on proceedings.
The lead stretched out to beyond 30 as the clinical Diamonds displayed their quality all over the court, and exploited the spaces that were starting to appear as the Malawians struggled to keep a lid on the quality and quantity of Australia’s attacks.
By contrast, the injured Mvula was proving to be a big miss in the opposite shooting circle, with the Malawian shooters converting just five of the 12 shooting opportunities they created in the entire first half.
That fifth Malawian goal, scored by Kamwala, drew cheers from the neutrals in the crowd, but it wouldn’t have brought too much comfort to the Queens, who went in at half time trailing 41-5.
Alexander elected to make changes in both shooting positions for the third quarter, with Caitlin Thwaites and Steph Wood coming on. Any question of those changes disrupting the Diamonds’ rhythm were soon quashed though, as the pairing picked up exactly where their team-mates had left off in front of goal.
At the other end though, Malawi were far better, and their shooting combination of Simtowe and Chimaliro began to find the net with regularity as they benefited from more fluid movement and build-up play.
In what was a quarter of two halves, the score had moved competitively along to 54-13 before an excellent interception by Sarah Klau triggered another period of Australian dominance.
Wood and Thwaites continued to link up well as the Diamonds produced yet more brilliance, with both replacement shooters at 100% as the third quarter ended 61-14.
The crowd-pleasing Malawian revival continued into the fourth quarter however, as an even opening few minutes culminated in the Queens turning possession over and converting their opportunity to lead in a quarter for the first time in the match.
Thwaites and Wood were relentless though, both continuing their 100% record in front of goal as the lead stretched out to 50 for the first time, at 70-20 midway through the final quarter.
The Queens didn’t let that margin grow, and delighted the neutrals in the crowd by finishing with a flourish, scoring the last two goals of the game, which ended 74-25.
The win moves Australia on to eight points, level at the top of Group F with New Zealand. The two nations meet on Thursday morning, in the game which will decide the group winners.
Australia’s Steph Wood said:
“Our first half was really strong, then Malawi came out in that second half and did a few things differently. I think we adjusted pretty well, and now we’ll go back and prepare for New Zealand.”
The disappointment felt by Dan Ryan’s team was in stark contrast to the Malawians, who kept alive their dream of appearing in a maiden Vitality Netball World Cup semi-final.
Coming into the game, fans will have expected to see a close game between the sides ranked 6th and 8th in the world, and they were not disappointed.
Malawi – who included within their ranks Joanna Kachilika, who was making her 100th international appearance – attacked from the first centre pass, and opened the scoring. Northern Ireland’s initial attack saw the ball pass through the net but the goal was ruled out for an infringement.
However Northern Ireland kept pressing, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 advantage. Noleen Armstrong and Emma Magee added a further four goals to take the game out to 8-4, before Malawi suffered a blow when their centre, Thandie Galleta, limped off after nine minutes. Despite this setback, the Malawi Queens rallied towards the end of the quarter, with the shooting of Sindi Simtowe helping to take the score out to 12-9 in their favour.
Northern Ireland started the second quarter brightly and forced interceptions, with Armstrong taking full advantage of the bonus opportunities to once again see the Warriors in front by 13-12.
However in a seesawing game, it was the Africans who registered the next two successful efforts on goal. Armstrong’s miss allowed Malawi to edge further ahead by 17-14. Joyce Mvula replaced Simtowe and made an impression immediately, shooting at 100% as Malawi stretched their lead out to four.
Northern Irish centre Caroline O’ Hanlon was at the heart of everything, and she was instrumental again as they wrestled back some momentum at the end of the half, with Armstrong’s buzzer beater ensuring they went in just two behind, at 22-20.
The unerring Mvula opened the scoring in the second half, before Armstrong replied in kind. Jane Chimaliro then contributed a brace to give Malawi a three-goal cushion, which was the platform the Queens needed to kick on.
Mvula’s accuracy in the circle continued, and was unmatched at the other end, as Malawi took their lead out to nine. Northern Ireland continued to fight though – spurred on by the pain of yesterday’s two-goal defeat to Zimbabwe – and they were able to bring the deficit back down to two going into the final quarter.
With Malawi having started the quarter on the front foot, Magee took what looked a nasty tumble in the attacking third, before getting back to her feet and seeing her next shot eventually find the net to bring the Warriors back to within two.
Errors started to creep in though, and Mvula was in no mood to let them off the hook, shooting superbly as the Queens took the lead back out to a commanding seven goals. Northern Ireland reduced the gap late on, but ultimately Malawi’s movement and clinical shooting earned them the victory.
Malawi’s Joanna Kachilika, winning her 100th cap, said:
“It was a tough game, it was not easy. Northern Ireland played really well. We worked hard as a team. We have the fighting spirit, and that enabled us to win the game.
“I was surprised when I was told it was my 100th game. I am so happy and thankful to have played one hundred international games.”
Battle lines were drawn between the two teams who found themselves in the same position after each suffered a loss to New Zealand but claimed wins over Singapore.
Malawi got off to a shaky start from a delayed centre pass, and consequently Joyce Mvula failed to convert their first shooting opportunity into a goal. Barbados were quick to react and within seconds Shonica Wharton scored the first goal of the match, however Malawi soon regained possession and directed the ball back to their own shooting-circle where Mvula got Malawi off the mark.
The first five minutes continued in an even pattern, before Malawi stepped up their centre court intensity and began to dominate. Takondwa Lwazi controlled Malawi’s shooting circle, receiving and feeding balls into Mvula and Jane Chimaliro, who scored nine goals with no response, contributing to a Malawian lead of 17-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Their first quarter performance ensured a confident start to the second by the Queens, and Mvula and Chimaliro continued to build their advantage. Barbados duo Sheniqua Thomas and Shonica Wharton were on form in front of the net, but quick movement between Lawzi and Thandie Galletta in particular allowed Malawi to extend their lead to 35-20 at the break.
Barbados saw possession overturned early in the third quarter, when a superb Lawzi interception triggered a Malawian attack which would end in a superbly-executed Mvula goal.
The Gems’ shooters continued to be a force to be reckoned with, however Malawi were taking full advantage of the amount of penalties awarded in the attacking third, extending their lead further and again winning the quarter 17-11.
Chimaliro was substituted early in the final quarter, and Malawi looked to tire slightly as Sheniqua Thomas and Latonia Blackman continued to shoot well to ensure that the last 15 minutes would be the closest quarter of the match. Despite the late Barbadian rally though, Malawi had enough in the locker to get over the line comfortably, by a scoreline of 65-41.
The Queens bounced back resoundingly from their defeat to New Zealand, winning 87-38.
A footwork error by Singapore on the first pass of the game initially put them on the back foot, but as they relaxed into the match they began to even things out.
However, with the reliable presence of Joyce Mvula shooting at 95% in the Queens’ attacking circle, and with a steady flow of ball from the defence, it wasn’t long before Malawi found their footing and ploughed quickly onwards, to lead 27-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Heading into the second, Singapore switched things up in their defensive end with substitutes coming on.
The changes proved fruitful. Whilst still physically challenged by Malawi on the ball, Singapore were able to compete more readily with the Queens. This, coupled with Charmaine Soh converting 12 goals from 13 attempts, led to the Singaporeans producing a much-improved quarter performance, although they still trailed 45-20 at half time.
Malawi came out of the blocks fastest as the whistle started the second half, and despite changes up and down the court, the new-look Queens displayed the same fluidity and instinct as the previous line-up.
Singapore, on the other hand, struggled shooting-wise in the third quarter. Their goal attack Kai Wei Toh, under the pressure of the Malawi defence, only managed 55% in the quarter, as Malawi extended their lead out to 63-30.
Singapore once more tinkered with their line-up in a bid to try and face the Malawi charge, which continued, unrelenting in the final quarter. However, the full court defensive pressure from the Queens ultimately became too much for Singapore, who were unable to produce a response, and ultimately went down 87-38 – with Malawi’s total their second highest ever in a single World Cup match.
Malawi’s goal shooter Joyce Mvula said:
“We feel much better. Yesterday was a hard time for us but we kept on going. We just have to keep the momentum going tomorrow, where we have to win. I know it’s not easy but we just have to be strong.”
The game provided plenty of excitement for the crowd inside the M&S Bank Arena to enjoy, with New Zealand supporters particularly vocal in the top tier of the Court One stand.
They were able to see their team avenge the shock defeat they suffered at the Commonwealth Games at the hands of Malawi by getting their World Cup campaign off to a winning start.
The first quarter was a closely-fought contest, with New Zealand edging in front by a scoreline of 17-11 as the whistle blew, largely thanks to the prolific goal shooter Maria Folau.
It was New Zealand who scored the first goal of the game – and the tournament – before Malawi scored four times without reply to bring themselves back into contention. By the end of the first quarter, however, New Zealand had begun to show signs of exerting their dominance on the game.
That position of strength was only increased in the second quarter, as they headed into the halfway point in the match leading by a score of 32-17.
New Zealand goal shooter Folau and goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio, the 6’1” 28-year-old, linked up well, while Malawi struggled at times to break down the effective defensive set-up of their opponents.
As umpire Joshua Bowring got the penultimate quarter underway, New Zealand were well in control of the game and they sensibly pressed on, using the momentum gathered during the first half an hour.
Malawi pulled two goals back in quick succession through Sindi Simtowe early in the third quarter before Folau got her side back on track. Malawi’s urgency in possession increased, but with three quarters of the game gone, New Zealand led 49-30.
The final 15 minutes saw New Zealand see the game out, but not without Malawi putting up a fight. The African side notched 15 goals in the final quarter, although New Zealand ran out comfortable victors overall.
New Zealand will hope to continue their good form when they face Barbados tomorrow, while Malawi will look to bounce back in the same session in their fixture against Singapore.
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua said:
“It’s great to get out there on court. Malawi is always a bogey team for us, and I thought they were really good today as well. They play a very unorthodox style, so it’s quite difficult to get on top of, but overall it’s a start for us, and I know the areas that we need to build on.”