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Silver Ferns drop Constellation Cup opener

The Silver Ferns were given reminder of Australia’s power and depth after dropping the first of the four-Test Constellation Cup series 50-40 to the Diamonds in Melbourne on Thursday.

Meeting each other for the first time since January’s Netball Quad Series final, the Silver Ferns could not absorb Australia’s constant pressure and accuracy on attack despite producing a plucky third-quarter revival.

There were some encouraging moments from the visitors but overall, the Silver Ferns struggled to consistently stay in the fight.

The Silver Ferns young brigade will have learnt plenty and had some promising moments, but the clinical efficiency of Diamonds captain Liz Watson on attack and the pin-point play of shooters Cara Koenen and Kiera Austin proved the difference.

We’ve just got to continue to be better and take it on,” Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio said.

Some of our girls haven’t played Aussie too much, so now they’ve got a first taste and they know what’s to come in the next one.”

Fresh off making her international debut just weeks ago, Silver Ferns shooter Amelia Walmsley faced her toughest assignment to date when lining up against the Diamonds for the first time to gain her third Test start.

The new-look Silver Ferns midcourt of Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (wing attack), Maddy Gordon (centre) and Kate Heffernan (wing defence) also retained their starting spots, with the opportunity to continue cementing their budding partnerships.

Following the retirements of Steph Wood and Ash Brazill, shooter Austin and wing defence Jamie-Lee Price got starts for the Diamonds.

The Silver Ferns withstood an early onslaught from the Diamonds, retaining their composure and patience to make a solid fist of the opening quarter.

Under constant defensive pressure, the Silver Ferns attack line worked overtime to get the ball goal-bound but initially managed to cope with the threat of defenders Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce.

Ekenasio and Wamsley settled into a smooth rhythm under the hoop while at the other end, Kelly Jury and Gordon picked up valuable gains to disrupt Australia’s slick attacking momentum as the visitors took a 12-10 lead into the first break.

The hosts got away to a sizzling start on the resumption, gaining traction with a 5-1 start and taking a strong grip on proceedings.

The Silver Ferns had their moments at both ends but Australia remained relentless across all areas, backed up by smothering defence while delivering an effective mix of speed and timing on attack.

Unable to stem the flow of ball defensively, the Silver Ferns introduced Karin Burger for Phoenix Karaka at goal defence late in the piece but faced a big challenge after Australia pushed out to a 29-20 lead at the main break.

The Silver Ferns delivered a concerted never-say-die response during a battling third quarter where they held strong against the relentless Diamonds. Greater defensive resolve, where strong challenges from Jury, Burger and Heffernan managed to disrupt the Diamonds flow.

Despite the constant attention, the teenaged Walmsley grew in confidence, adding extra movement while increasing her volume, combined with Ekenasio’s ability to sink goals from long-range bombs.

Gordon and Reuelu-Buchanan worked tirelessly through the midcourt, a brief failure in the lights and plunging the stadium into momentary darkness, not phasing the Silver Ferns winning the third quarter by three goals but still trailing Australia 40-34 at the last turn.

The second Test will be played in Brisbane on Sunday (9.30pm, NZT).