FAST5 Ferns end first day unbeaten
Fittingly, it was a thrilling 34-32 win over traditional rivals Australia that ensured the FAST5 Ferns remained unbeaten after the first day of the Fast5 Netball World Series in Melbourne on Saturday.
In the ninth and final match of the day, showcasing the action-packed abbreviated version of the game which features rolling substitutions, three different scoring zones, power plays and six-minute quarters, the only two unbeaten teams turned on a riveting contest which had all the intensity of a final.
With six new caps in their ranks, it took until the final quarter for the FAST5 Ferns to edge in front, teenaged shooter Aliyah Dun slotting the second of her super shots with under 30 seconds to go to give the New Zealanders a crucial two-goal buffer.
On the back of pin-point shooting from Kiera Austin in the two-point zone, Australia delivered a fruitful second quarter power play. But timely two-pointers from Bailey Mes, the athleticism of midcourt pocket rocket Kimiora Poi and the defensive exploits of captain Sulu Fitzpatrick, Karin Burger and Holly Fowler kept the FAST5 Ferns well in the contest.
Australia led 30-29 going into a tight and tense final quarter, play swinging back and forth with neither team profiting, until Dunn nailed the decisive three-pointer to get the FAST5 Ferns over the line.
``The great thing was that our full team contributed to the game and it was nice that we could put the opposition under pressure at the right time,’’ FAST5 Ferns coach Debbie Fuller said.
``We’re really rapt after the first day’s play. Winning’s a great feeling and it gives us confidence to know that what we’re doing is on the right track. It’s also testing our scope, so we know how far people can be extended, what they can do under pressure and this is the best way to find out.’’
The FAST5 Ferns have an outstanding record in the shortened version of the game, having won the title on six occasions since the inception of the tournament in 2009.
Last year the team finished fourth and out of the medals for the first time, defending champions England looking unlikely to retain their title after three straight losses on today’s opening day.
Australia and an experienced Jamaica have two wins apiece heading into tomorrow’s final day with South Africa and Malawi sitting on one win each. Final round robin matches will be played to decide the final play-off places in Melbourne which is hosting the tournament for the third and final time.
Earlier in the day, the FAST5 Ferns were forced to dig deep in repelling a spirited South Africa challenge. Having never beaten the FAST5 Ferns, South Africa responded to a disappointing opening 20-goal loss against Jamaica with a determined challenge against the New Zealanders.
Producing a 22-goal power play on the back of four two-pointers (worth double points) in succession from goal attack Renske Stoltze drew South Africa to within three heading into the final six-minute quarter.
Strong hustling defence from Fitzpatrick, Burger and Fowler created a number of turnover opportunities for the FAST5 Ferns while Mes, in particular, who potted six from two-point range, ably supported by Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Dunn, added the polish under the hoop to clinch a narrow 39-36 win.
In their tournament opener, the FAST5 Ferns overcame a jittery start to claim a well-crafted 32-19 win over England.