The Silver Ferns built on their momentum from earlier on in the tournament to register a 77-28 win, although Dan Ryan’s Northern Ireland will also be able to take plenty of positives from a strong finish to the game.
Northern Ireland, off the back of two narrow defeats in their last two games, brought Shaunagh Craig back in at goal shooter, replacing Noleen Armstrong from the start.
Their task was a tall one from the outset – the Silver Ferns had won all six previous World Cup meetings between the teams, one of those meetings delivering what remains the biggest ever win in World Cup history – 112-4, in Eastbourne in 1963.
The gap is far narrower between the modern-day sides, but the as-yet unbeaten Silver Ferns made a rapid start, capitalising on early Northern Ireland errors to race into a 6-0 lead.
Emma Magee put the Warriors on the board after five minutes, and that triggered an improved period for Dan Ryan’s side, who traded goals with the Kiwis over the next few minutes.
Craig got her first goal eight minutes in, and subsequently delighted the Northern Irish fans in the crowd with a wonderful piece of handling to gather in a ball which looked destined to go out of play, before scoring.
New Zealand’s strength at both ends of the court was evident though, and they turned possession over on numerous occasions to push their lead out as the quarter progressed, finishing the first 15 minutes 22-7 ahead.
They followed that up by again applying early pressure in the second quarter with – just as in the first – Northern Ireland taking five minutes to add to their score.
By then, the relentless Silver Fern machine had well and truly clicked into gear, with the superb defensive work of Jane Watson and Casey Kopua and one particular moment of high-quality handling between Laura Langman and Ameliaranne Ekenasio underlining the magnitude of the Warriors’ task.
New Zealand were getting the ball to their shooters with relative ease, and pressed on ruthlessly as the quarter progressed, stretching their lead out to 44-11 at half time.
Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua made a raft of changes at the break, and Northern Ireland capitalised on a loss of fluidity to start the third quarter in a much better fashion.
In what was a scrappy quarter in general, good work from substitute Bailey Mes brought up the New Zealand half century as the lead continued to go out, but the Northern Ireland defenders were having more success, narrowing the gap in the scoring rate and keeping their opponents to just 17 in the quarter, as opposed to the 22 they managed in each of the opening two.
However, a typical moment of quality from Maria Folau wasn’t far away, and she ended the quarter with a wonderful shot from range to extend the Kiwis’ advantage to 61-17.
Despite more changes, New Zealand made a far smoother start to the final quarter, again stepping up defensively to claim numerous turnovers and move through the gears again as they pushed their lead out.
To their immense credit though, Northern Ireland produced by far their best quarter of the game, with one particularly flowing move finished off by Ciara Crosbie highlighting the quality they too possess in their ranks.
New Zealand were simply a class above, though, and Ekenasio and Te Paea Selby-Rickit continued to add to the scoreline as Taurua took the opportunity to try various combinations all over the court as the Silver Ferns’ potential group decider with Australia on Thursday comes into view.
Northern Ireland’s Ciara Crosbie said:
“I think whenever we go up against the world’s best, as New Zealand are, we can be a bit star-struck to start off with, but once we get ourselves into it like today we know we can give any team a good run.”
Following yesterday’s nail-biting 51-49 reverse against Zimbabwe, Dan Ryan’s side lost their opening Group F game 47-43 against Malawi this morning.
The nature of the two defeats has been tough to take, Drayne conceded:
“We’re just gutted. We got it back to two in that third quarter, after it pulled out to about six at one point I think, and we thought we had it, but we just made a few sloppy errors at the start of the fourth. We clawed it back again but it was just too late.
“We went into that last quarter full of belief – we’d got it back to two after having that dip and we went out there fully thinking we could do it. It’s just one turnover, one change of possession.
“Unfortunately they’re very good at keeping the ball – they’re very safe with it, and I think sometimes we weren’t safe enough with it; maybe we should have passed it around a bit.”
Despite the setbacks, Drayne believes that the Warriors can take plenty of belief into their remaining Group F fixtures. After facing New Zealand tomorrow, they take on Barbados on Thursday.
“There’s still a lot of confidence in the group. We’ve only lost by two and by four – we haven’t been hammered, it’s different when you get hammered. So there’s still a lot of confidence and belief, so we just have to go out there and put that performance together.
“Against New Zealand we’ll probably try a few combinations and run the bench a lot more. It’s a chance to try different stuff but also to work on our structures and make sure we see them through.
“Realistically we know it’s not a game we’re going to win, but we really want to put up a good contest and a good fight, and to challenge and annoy them – make them think and not let them have a free-flowing game.”
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.”
In the battle to decide who would finish second to Australia in the group, the tussle went right down to the wire, with the lead changing hands multiple times before the Zim Gems held their nerve to edge over the line and spark wild celebrations in the crowd.
Northern Ireland started brightly, briskly taking a 5-1 lead in an opening period which gave no indication of the seesaw nature of the rest of the contest which was about to unfold.
As Zimbabwe clawed their way back into the game, captain Caroline O’Hanlon dictated play for Northern Ireland, working tirelessly to provide opportunities for Noleen Armstrong and Emma Magee. At the other end, Joice Takaidza was keeping the scoreboard ticking over for Zimbabwe, although her attacking partner Ursula Ndlovu was struggling to find space in the shooting circle, and Northern Ireland finished the quarter 15-12 up.
Zimbabwe’s defence tightened in the second quarter, with Armstrong less clinical – she missed two opportunities as Zimbabwe reduced the deficit to just a single goal.
The atmosphere – already electric – continued to build as the two sides traded blows in what was becoming one of the best games of the tournament so far.
Despite the rising pressure though, Takaidza was a calming, composed presence in the Zimbabwean attack, as the Zim Gems edged in front for the first time in the contest shortly before half time. They ended the second quarter by reversing the score of the first, meaning that for the first game in the tournament half-time was reached with the scores level – 27-27.
The spine-tingling atmosphere continued into the second half of the contest, but it was Northern Ireland who settled to their task better, pulling away by four goals in the third quarter.
The evenly-matched nature of the two teams ensured that the lead didn’t last long though, and thanks in the main to the accuracy of Takaidza, Zimbabwe clawed their way back to even the scores again.
In the final minute of the quarter, the Zim Gems edged ahead again through substitute Sharon Bwanali, only for Magee to level proceedings at 39-39 going into the final quarter.
The back-and-forth nature of an absorbing contest continued deep into the final quarter, with Zimbabwe getting themselves just in front as the closing minutes approached.
With five minutes to go, Takaidza took their lead back out to two, and followed that up with a fantastic one-handed take and composed finish to ensure that the pressure mounted on Northern Ireland.
Magee responded by drawing the Warriors level at 49-49, but they couldn’t capitalise on having the next centre pass, giving away a contact foul as they approached the Zimbabwean circle.
Both teams then traded errors as the atmosphere reached fever pitch, and a fumble by the Northern Irish attackers proved crucial as Zimbabwe re-took the lead through Ndlovu with 80 seconds left.
Fittingly, it was Takaidza who then all-but ended the contest, putting her side 51-49 ahead – a lead which they held on to for the 55 seconds which remained, to claim a famous win.
Zimbabwe’s Ursula Ndlovu said:
“I wanted to cry at the end! I’m just happy – I don’t know what to say! That is one of the most challenging games I’ve played – it was very tough. The Zimbabwe fans – I want to say that I love them all! We try to make them proud.
“I’m so proud because our supporters are representing our country. There are so many supporters – they boost our confidence and we can’t disappoint them.”
Northern Ireland captain Caroline O’Hanlon said:
“We’re pretty gutted. We gave it everything but we made too many errors. We made errors across the four quarters and they were costly in the end – the game was there for the taking and we should have closed it out.”
The Warriors endured a tough start to the tournament yesterday, losing heavily to reigning champions Australia as O’Hanlon was forced from the court with a head injury.
However, they bounced back today, defeating Sri Lanka 67-50 to mark O’Hanlon’s 100th appearance in style.
“I’m just delighted to get out on the court and get a win, which is the most important thing. But it’s an honour every time I get to play for Northern Ireland – I’m delighted that the 100th time was on such a big occasion and that we got the win.
“We went back after the Australia game and prepared as we normally would for any game. Our medical staff assessed me but I didn’t dwell too much on it and just focused on today’s game. I was keen to play anyway, but I got the nod from Dan (Ryan) this morning.”
Northern Ireland now face World Cup debutants Zimbabwe in their next Group A game tomorrow, and O’Hanlon admits that there are areas they need to work on.
“It’s a relief to get those points on the board today. We were nervous going into this game – Sri Lanka are a difficult team; they’re a bit different to other teams we’ve played before so we didn’t really know what to expect.
“There’s always that little bit of anxiety, so we’re just relieved to get through that game, get the points on the board and prepare for a tough game tomorrow.
“We have to focus on ourselves. That was a patchy performance today – there were some really good elements but we dropped concentration at times and made some silly errors, so I think if we can go and tidy up our own game that’s all we can really do. We’ll look at the footage of Zimbabwe but we’ll be focusing on the things we can control.”
After both teams suffered big losses in their first matches, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka were looking to right the wrongs of day one.
The Warriors – with quick feet and agility – took the early lead, with captain Caroline O’Hanlon, on the occasion of her 100th international cap, dictating their attack. O’Hanlon had been a doubt after taking a heavy knock in her team’s loss to Australia yesterday, but she showed no ill effects today.
Whilst Tharjini Sivalingam, Sri Lanka’s 6’9″ shooting weapon, kept things ticking over for them, it was the Warriors who were able to build a lead of five goals – 18-13 – at the end of the first quarter.
Substitutions early on in the second quarter saw changes to the Sri Lankan attack and it initially showed more promise. Sri Lanka were able to quell any attempt by Northern Ireland to push on, with the goal difference for much of the quarter sitting at six.
The Warriors, however, soon adapted and were able to press on. The combination of Fionnuala Toner, Michelle Drayne and O’Hanlon in the centre of the court provided fluid transition play, and allowed Northern Ireland to stretch their lead to 34-25 at half time.
The third quarter saw the Warriors really hit their stride. Goal keeper Gemma Lawlor started to successfully pick off more and more of the balls being fed into Sivalingam, forcing Sri Lanka to use Dulangi Wannithileka for the first time in the game.
This, with some mid-court tips and tricks, enabled Northern Ireland to keep building on their lead and go into the final quarter 51-37 ahead.
Sri Lanka started the final quarter quickly, and their newly-found rhythm compelled Lawlor and Toner to come flying out of their defensive circle to disrupt play. Their defensive efforts were rewarded as the Warriors took back control and emerged 67-50 victors.
Northern Ireland wing attack, Michelle Drayne, said:
“Parts of it went really well and we had really good passes at goal and good structures. At other times it felt clunky or even disconnected. We would have liked to have pushed on more than we did, but we’re really happy to get that first win on the board.”
The Diamonds had won all five of the previous World Cup meetings between the two sides and from the off, their 100% record never looked in any danger.
They strode seven points into the lead inside five minutes before the Warriors, ranked eighth in the world, got themselves on to the scoresheet.
At the end of the first quarter, Australia led 24-7 with goal shooter Caitlin Bassett converting all 18 of her opportunities and goal attack Steph Wood equally as efficient with her six.
That efficiency from the Diamonds continued into the second period, as they pressed on in search of more goals.
Northern Ireland, though, improved in the second 15, as they scored eight times – once more than in the opening quarter – and limited Australia to 21, three fewer than they managed previously.
The gulf between the teams was clear, although Northern Ireland were trying their utmost to limit their opposition.
At the halfway mark, there was a 30-goal gap between the sides, with the score standing at 45-15 to the holders.
For the third quarter, Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett replaced Bassett and Wood respectively for Australia, and after a couple of minutes stoppage for Northern Ireland centre Caroline O’Hanlon to receive treatment after a heavy fall midway through the quarter, normal service resumed.
Northern Ireland notched three times in the quarter, but fell further behind as Australia increased their lead to 67-19. Substitute Thwaites converted 15 times from a possible 16, winning her battle against Northern Ireland goalkeeper Gemma Lawlor.
Australia already had the two points wrapped up prior to the fourth and final period, but still had time to convert another 21 times as they eased towards the final whistle, ending their scoring at 88.
The Diamonds, one of just four teams to have competed in every edition of the Netball World Cup, face Zimbabwe on Saturday morning as they seek a second successive victory.
Northern Ireland will look to get their first points of the tournament in their fixture versus Sri Lanka shortly afterwards.
Australia’s Sarah Klau, who made her international debut today, said:
“It’s everything that I could have imagined. Standing there, during the national anthem, I got the goosebumps like I thought I would. It was such an incredible experience – it’s always been a dream of mine.
“Having debuted now, I think that gives me a lot of confidence leading into the next few games. Hopefully I do alright.”
Northern Ireland coach Dan Ryan said:
“Your heart is in your mouth when you see a player of her (Caroline O’Hanlon’s) importance to our World Cup campaign get injured.
“She’s been assessed by the medical team and will continue to be assessed in the next couple of moments. I think everything should be okay, hopefully, but we just have to wait and see.”
Three teams. Two places.
Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are set to go head-to-head to be the first two teams to qualify for the Netball World Cup 2019 when they meet at the Regional Qualifier- Europe in Perth, Scotland from 19-21 January.
With the three teams ranked 8th, 9th and 11th respectively in the INF world rankings, the tournament will be closely contested as they compete to book their place in Liverpool.
With host nations England qualifying automatically, the three teams will battle it out to secure the two qualifying places available for the International Netball Federation Europe region.
Find out more about the qualification process for the World Cup here.
Friday 19 January
Scotland v Wales 7:30pm
Saturday 20 January
Wales v Northern Ireland 3:00pm
Sunday 21 January
Scotland v Northern Ireland 12:00 noon
After finishing second (to England) at October’s Netball Europe Open Championships, Northern Ireland head into the qualifier as the highest ranked of the three teams. But as executive manager Karen Rollo explains, this is no guarantee of qualification.
“The World Cup qualifier is a massive event for us. Having narrowly missed out on the last World Cup, we know the impact this can have both on our performance opportunities and financially.
“The squad are ready and while qualification from the European region is extremely difficult with all three countries being within the top 11 rankings, I am confident the squad will deliver in Perth and be part of what will be an amazing event in Liverpool 2019.”
Despite the anticipated close nature of the tournament, Rollo is still confident that Northern Ireland can progress and successfully book their place in Liverpool.
“Above all else, our players deserve to be there; I’ve witnessed first-hand the dedication and commitment of the athletes, management team and support staff to ensure we are the best we can be”.
Full squad: Kyla Bowman, Lisa Bowman, Niamh Cooper, Michelle Drayne, Gemma Lawlor, Noleen Lennon, Michelle Magee, Lisa McCaffrey, Oonagh McCullough, Caroline O’Hanlon (C), Fionnuala Toner, Neamh Woods
The Scotland squad will feature a blend of youth and experience, which is an exciting prospect for Scottish Thistles captain Claire Brownie, who believes the team is in a good position going into the tournament.
“Our preparation going into the tournament has been the best it’s ever been.” Brownie explains. “We’re working hard to ensure we do everything possible to be ready to compete and win both our games.”
Having been in the Scotland squad that missed out on qualification for the 2011 World Cup in Singapore, Brownie knows the stakes are high and it’s going to be a tough tournament for all three teams.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a close tournament,” says Brownie. “All three countries deserve to be at the Netball World Cup but it will depend on which teams play their best netball on the day. The level of netball in the region has never been higher, so we have an incredibly tough weekend ahead of us, but I am confident the Thistles will qualify.”
“With the tournament being held in Liverpool we know we would get amazing Scottish support at the games, so that is an extra incentive for us to keep focused on our target of qualifying.”
Full squad: Claire Brownie (C), Lynsey Gallagher (VC), Ella Gibbons, Bethan Goodwin, Niamh McCall, Nic McCleery, Hayley Mulheron, Sam Murphy, Emily Nicholl, Jo Pettitt, Bethany Sutherland, Fiona Themann
Wales head into the qualifier buoyed after an impressive two-nil series victory over Samoa in December’s Wendy White Series in Cardiff, with Head Coach Tracey Wilcox feeling confident about the team’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup:
“These matches are must wins for us with all three countries so evenly matched we are looking forward to three closely contested test matches.”
“It is going to be a thrilling and tense couple of tests. We are confident in our abilities and have had an excellent preparation with the players well prepared to give it their all in the red dress.”
Full squad: Fern Davies, Suzy Drane (C), Bethan Dyke, Clare Jones, Kyra Jones, Nia Jones, Lateisha Kidner, Sarah Llewellyn, Kelly Morgan, Cara Lea Moseley, Eleanor Roberts, Georgia Rowe
How to follow the tournament
Regional Qualifier – Europe
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