New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games netball hopes took a slight stumble when they lost their final pool match 54-44 to defending champions England.
Except for the obvious disappointment of losing at all, it was no more than a slight stumble because the result means New Zealand now meet Jamaica in the semi-finals instead of pre-tournament favourites Australia. Jamaica caused a stir in their final pool match by edging out Australia by two goals.
New Zealand are the current world champions, but their team in Birmingham differs markedly from the experienced combination that won the world title in 2019.
The young New Zealand team generally coped well with a tall, confident England team and an excited and parochial crowd, but had some trouble retaining possession and also in getting the ball quickly through to their shooters.
Youngster Kate Heffernan was brought on court at wing defence in place of Kayla Johnson and did some fine defensive work and well as gaining possession a couple of times.
In the shooting circle 20-year-old Grace Nweke had a tough time of it up against veteran England goal keep Geva Mentor and Nweke’s stats of 23 successes from 29 shots were down on her usual percentage.
Mai Wilson shot eight from nine and Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who had a good all round game, was impeccable – 13 from 13 – after she replaced Maia Wilson at the beginning of the second quarter.
England established an early lead, but New Zealand pegged them back and at halftime it was only 25 24 to England. Early in the third quarter New Zealand drew level, but that was the last moment of parity.
The buoyed up England team dominated the second half and pulled away inexorably.
New Zealand’s defenders kept the pressure on England’s main shooters, Eleanor Cardwell and Helen Housby, who missed three shots each.
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua lamented a sloppy closing few minutes, which allowed the final margin to blow out.
She said she hoped the recent series at home against the New Zealand men would help prepare her team to meet the tall, strong Jamaican side, but is wary of the Jamaican challenge.
“I always knew they were going to be good. Their bookends are amazing, obviously.
"You’ve got the shooting prowess of Jhaniele [Fowler] and you’ve got your Shamera’s [Sterling] and every other person defensively who’s strong, so they will have got a lot from confidence [beating Australia] and rightly so once again.”Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games