Defending champions New Zealand booked a place in the Commonwealth Games netball final in thrilling circumstances today, beating England 35-34 in a topsy-turvy semi-final.
There was never a moment when New Zealand could be assured of winning.
It was 10-10 at quarter-time and during the second quarter England rocketed out to a five-goal lead.
Amazingly New Zealand turned it around and led 20-19 at halftime.
At the end of the third quarter, it was 29-29 and the final 15 minutes were very closely fought, with heavy emphasis on defence.
New Zealand had big problems with their shooting.
The regular top pairing of Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia have been carrying injuries and did not start. But coach Waimarama Taumaunu replaced fledgling goal shoot Ellen Halpenny after the first quarter, when Halpenny has missed three of her seven shots.
Tutaia went to goal attack and Jodi Brown moved to goal shoot. However, Tutaia was far from her usual rock-steady self. In the end she sank 15 of 25 attempts, for a 60 per cent success ratio, when she would normally look for something closer to 90 per cent. Brown scored 16 from 20, so her shooting was tidy.
Overall New Zealand had 51 shots for 35 goals, just 69 per cent.
Part of the shooters’ problems could be attributed to the strong defensive effort of the English pairing of Geva Mentor and Eboni Beckford-Chambers, a point Taumaunu mentioned afterwards.
Similarly, New Zealand defenders Katrina Grant (for the final three quarters) and Casey Kopua made life very difficult for England shooters Joanne Harten and Kadeen Corbin, who swapped positions for the final quarter, to no great effect. Corbin, in particular, struggled, scoring from just 14 of her 22 attempts, though she did land some good long-range bombs.
The match was exciting but not of especially high quality, with far too many turnovers and misdirected passes.
New Zealand captain Kopua said it had been an intense game. “Both teams were so desperate. You just do everything you can to win in those situations,” she said.
She said her team’s big heart and the way they used their heads in the end got them home.
“We have been in situations like that before and that experience definitely helped us.”
Though Taumaunu did not seem impressed with her team’s shooting statistics, she praised her midcourters Liana Leota and Laura Langman for their perseverance and excellent efforts in moving the ball down the court.
“I was pleased we were able to hold on and respond when the pressure went on,” she said. “We stayed calm. We have practised over and over for that final two minutes and it paid off today.”
The loss was doubly heartbreaking for England, who hoped during the Commonwealth Games to break the Australia-New Zealand stranglehold on world netball – England have won the bronze medal at the past three games. Instead they lost to Australia by one in a pool match and now have bowed out by the same margin to New Zealand.