Diamonds bounce back to level Constellation Cup series
The outcome of the Constellation Cup was left hanging in the balance when Australia levelled the series after posting a 45-36 win over the Silver Ferns in Christchurch on Wednesday.
Desperate to get their hands on the silverware after last winning the series in 2012, the Silver Ferns were left to rue a poor start as the Diamonds rebounded in trademark fashion from their five-goal loss in the opening match.
The Diamonds roared back in decisive fashion, the Silver Ferns regaining their poise to win the second half in a low-scoring defence-orientated exchange but couldn’t make up the ground lost in a damaging first half.
With captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio rested for the match due to a calf knock, Monica Falkner made the starting line-up for the first time in just her third Test, joining Maia Wilson, who was an influential figure with a game-high 32 goals from 38 attempts.
The Diamonds also went for youth in their circle, with starting shooters Cara Koenen and Kiera Austin pairing up under the hoop after making their respective international debuts the night before. They also opted for a tall defensive line in the form of Jo Weston, Courtney Bruce and Sarah Klau.
The ring rusty Diamonds, who did not play at all in 2020 and only emerged from two weeks managed isolation on Monday, made a sparkling start while quickly reversing their fortunes of the previous night.
The two young shooters provided a mobile and lightening quick response at the attack end with fluency and speed being the order of the day while on defence, the Diamonds hustled effectively to make life difficult for the Silver Ferns forward momentum.
Seven goals on the trot gave the Diamonds a comfortable buffer as Maddy Gordon was ushered on at wing defence to become Silver Fern #177.
But it was the Diamonds who were in the box seat when leading 15-6 at the first break.
There were immediate changes on the resumption from Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua with Bailey Mes getting her first international outing in over 12 months after an injury-enforced lay-off, for Falkner, and Sulu Fitzpatrick replacing Karin Burger.
Moments later all the Silver Ferns midcourt options were on show as Whitney Souness (wing attack) and Shannon Saunders (centre) entered the fray for Gina Crampton and Claire Kersten.
However, the continued speed on attack and hustle provided by the defensive trio did not allow the Silver Ferns to find their rhythm as errors continued to creep in.
The Diamonds were well and truly in the groove when leading 30-16 at the main break.
Finding more space on attack and turnover opportunities on defence, the Silver Ferns made the best possible start to the third stanza when securing the first four goals while the Diamonds took five minutes before posting their first.
Another youngster in the form of Sophie Garbin was the third player to make her shooting debut for the Diamonds but the visitors found the going more difficult on attack with Jane Watson, in her 50th Test match, and Fitzpatrick forming a formidable wall.
Mes and Wilson continued to build on their partnership under the hoop, the rangy Mes also showing her value on defence. The Ferns had some satisfaction in winning the quarter but the Diamonds were still handily placed when leading 38-28 at the last break.
Both teams now have a two-day respite before locking horns in matches three and four in Christchurch on Saturday (4.15pm) and Sunday (3.15pm).