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Silver Ferns power home to take 2-1 lead in Constellation Cup

The Silver Ferns took a 2-1 lead and a big step towards claiming the Constellation Cup for the first time in nine years after a pulsating 55-49 win over the Australian Diamonds in Christchurch on Saturday.

With one match to play, the teams came into the third match-up on a win apiece, the Silver Ferns showing plenty of character to bounce back from a disappointing second Test loss. Turning a halftime deficit into a forceful second half response, the Silver Ferns powered away in the final quarter.

Fresh legs in the form of Shannon Saunders and Kimiora Poi, the return of influential captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio, some Jane Watson defensive magic and the flawless shooting of Maia Wilson, who notched 41 shots from 43 attempts under intense pressure won the day in a typically physical trans-Tasman clash.

The pressure caught up with the Diamonds, timely changes in the last quarter unable to get them across the line.

Both sides reverted to winning line-ups for the pivotal third Test showdown.

The Silver Ferns welcomed Ekenasio back from a calf knock, re-establishing their winning starting seven from the first test while the Diamonds did likewise in sticking with their winning starters from the second Test.

The Diamonds made a threatening start with their quick transition through court and fine finishing from young shooters Cara Koenen and Kiera Austin before an absorbing arm-wrestle became the theme.

Trailing early, the Silver Ferns responded with five straight goals to edge to a one-goal lead as the teams’ level-pegged, the work of midcourters Claire Kersten and Sam Winders doing a fine job in slowing Australia’s attacking progress.

Costly little lapses from the Silver Ferns helped the Diamonds hit the first break with a 14-11 lead.

There was no let-up on the resumption, huge defensive pressure both ways making the respective attacking units work extra hard to thread the ball through. It what became an increasingly bruising encounter, neither side took a backward step.

Ekenasio and her shooting buddy Wilson were strong and accurate under the hoop but lacked the quantity of ball their opposites enjoyed with Koenen and Austin proving a deadly scoring unit for the visitors.

Karin Burger took over from Watson at goal defence midway through the stanza while Saunders provided fresh legs late in the piece for Gina Crampton but the Silver Ferns could not prevent a late surge by the Diamonds who went into the main break with a 29-24 advantage.

The intensity levels rose to new heights in a momentum-swinging third stanza, the Silver Ferns getting away to a rollicking 6-1 start through patience and accuracy to bring the scores level.

The Diamonds absorbed the onslaught before reeling off five straight goals to retake the initiative. Fleet-footed little centre Poi came on for her first minutes of the series, taking over from Kersten while Watson was also injected back in.

The Silver Ferns were far from done, another three-goal trot, with Ekenasio and Wilson in fine form under the hoop, helping the home side eat into the deficit. Both teams had everything to play for when the Diamonds led 40-38 at the last turn after the Silver Ferns won the stanza by three goals.

With the lowering of Covid-19 restrictions and back at Level 1, a full house is expected for tomorrow’s fourth and final showdown at Christchurch Arena (starting at 3.15pm).