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Silver Ferns pipped by England in Nations Cup thriller

The Silver Ferns will play off for third after suffering an agonising 58-57 loss to England in their final round robin match at the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in Leeds on Sunday.

Trailing by six late in the fourth quarter, the Silver Ferns came within a whisker of levelling the scores with 30 seconds to go but a wayward pass ended their hopes.

Eleven players, including two on debut, took the court for the Silver Ferns and for much of the game there was plenty to admire in a positive outing.

A young and new-look Silver Ferns team showed plenty of grit, resilience and determination to keep the result in the balance right to the end against the more experienced England Roses.

There were moments, especially at the start and during the third and fourth quarters, when we were down by six but there was a lot grit shown out there. Our ability to finalise some of those plays at the end, whether it’s a pass through court or the connections are the things we have to learn on the job,” Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua said.

When it came down to it, we should have got that last goal in. But you’ve got to learn to play to win and we’re not quite there, so all credit to the Roses.”

Making her debut in the opening match, goal attack Georgia Heffernan was handed her third straight start of the series while captain Phoenix Karaka got the nod at goal defence with Karin Burger moving across to wing defence.

Playing in front of a home crowd, the well-credentialled Roses were spearheaded by the accomplished shooting duo of Eleanor Cardwell and Helen Housby.

In a precautionary measure, Silver Ferns midcourter Maddy Gordon was not considered for today’s match after suffering a head knock at training during the week.

In the face of a fluent England attack line and smothering defence, the Silver Ferns made a less than ideal start to quickly fall 5-0 behind. But with wing attack Whitney Souness and centre Kate Heffernan finding their range to the key shooting target of Grace Nweke, the New Zealanders turned their fortunes around.

The defensive trio of Kelly Jury, Karaka and Burger picked up their efforts to slow England’s momentum and with two minutes to go had levelled the scores before the Roses nudged to a 15-14 first quarter lead.

Both teams excelled on attack on the resumption, the fleet-footed Souness with her early release to an often double-marked Nweke being a feature. Top-quality shooting at both ends left little room for defensive gains but the hard work of the Silver Ferns back three helped clinch precious turnover possession.

The injection midway through goal attack Amorangi Malesala and centre Tayla Earle, both on debut, and becoming Silver Ferns #186 and #187 respectively, added extra energy as the women in black hit the lead for the first time with just over two minutes to go.

With Ellie Rattu coming on at wing defence for the hosts, Malesala nailed a buzzer-time goal to help the Silver Ferns retain a narrow 31-30 lead in an increasingly exciting spectacle.

With a spot in the final on the line, the intensity and physical levels lifted during a topsy turvy third quarter resulting in the lead changing hands several times. With Funmi Fadoju on at goal defence for England, the Roses regained the lead through some stifling defensive work.

However, that remained short-lived when the Silver Ferns replied in similar fashion with Jury and Burger working overtime to force turnovers. Untimely lapses proved costly for the Silver Ferns with late turnovers giving England the edge as they built a small but handy buffer in a contest of continuing small margins with neither side able to make a decisive break.

It was England who finished the stronger to hold a 46-43 lead at the last turn.

The Silver Ferns will play Uganda in the play-off for third at 3am on Monday (NZ time).