Silver Ferns defeat Uganda to finish third at Nations Cup
The introduction of experienced heads in the second half helped the Silver Ferns clinch a hard-fought 62-57 win over Uganda and third place in the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in Leeds on Monday.
With the focus on the future, a new and young group of Silver Ferns gained valuable exposure and opportunities in the four-nation tournament with a growing depth of quality rising to the fore.
Leading by three at the last turn, the Silver Ferns faced some anxious moments as Uganda closed to within one but the tall presence at each of the court of defender Kelly Jury and shooter Grace Nweke, who delivered another standout performance with 51 goals, and Whitney Souness in the midcourt provided the winning finishing touches in the run home.
“We came out with the win and once again, with this current group, the only way that we can learn is by being on the job,” Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua said.
“There were some really good moments but on the opposite side of that, there were some areas that we really need to tidy up on.
“This group has grown massively. We had 150 caps less than England in yesterday’s game and really pushed that game to the wire. Our ability to back up from one game to another is still a bit of a work-on and our ability to close the door when we need to is still a work-on.
“But we can be really proud of those who made their Silver Ferns debuts, and there were a few, during this tournament.”
With co-vice captain Kate Heffernan ruled out with an Achilles tendon niggle and Maddy Gordon out as a precaution after suffering a head knock at training, the Silver Ferns introduced a new-look starting line-up.
Mila Reuelu-Buchanan lined up at wing attack, Tayla Earle donned the centre’s bib and returning international Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, slotted in at wing defence. After making her debut in the previous match, goal attack Amorangi Malesala made her first international starting line-up.
Masters at retaining possession, the She Cranes got off to a clinical start in comparison to New Zealand’s more measured approach, the Silver Ferns taking much of the first quarter to find their groove.
Malesala was in the thick of action, her lively movement, scoring accuracy and non-stop defensive work helped the Silver Ferns achieve parity before sneaking into a 16-14 lead at the first break.
Uganda’s shooters, the 2.01m Mary Cholhok and captain Irene Eyaru worked perfectly together without missing a shot but it was the Silver Ferns shooting maestro Nweke who notched a significant personal milestone when scoring her 1000th goal during the first stanza in just her 13 test.
The tight tussle showed no signs of abating on the resumption with Uganda providing a gritty resistance in keeping the Silver Ferns well within their sights.
Malesala continued her strong form where the accuracy of delivery to both sets of shooters and the finishing left few turnover opportunities. On the back of a rare Silver Ferns lapse, Uganda levelled up midway through before hitting the lead with five minutes to go.
Finding Cholhok (25 from 25) hard to tame, a buzzer-time shot from Malesala helped leave the scores all tied up at 30-all at the main break.
The injection of fresh personnel and positional changes paid dividends for the Silver Ferns who took a firmer grip on proceedings with an energetic third stanza.
The extra height of goalkeeper Jury combined with the mobility of Phoenix Karaka (goal defence) and Karin Burger (wing defence) slowed Uganda’s impetus while the pace and quick ball release from wing attack Souness added extra spark and drive on attack.
Pushing out to a six-goal lead, the Silver Ferns were unable to completely shut down the gritty presence of Uganda who trimmed the margin to three when the New Zealanders took a 46-43 lead into the last break.