Silver Ferns secure Constellation Cup in final match thriller
Showing their growing ability to close out games, the Silver Ferns produced another gripping come-from-behind win to pip Australia 45-43 and clinch the Constellation Cup series 3-1 in Christchurch on Sunday.
In the process, the Silver Ferns broke a long drought in getting their hands on the Constellation Cup for the first time since 2012.
In a recurring theme, the Silver Ferns, after being down by five at halftime, delivered a blockbuster second half. In a fourth-quarter arm-wrestle, the Silver Ferns held their composure in a toe- to-toe stand-off with their great rivals.
The Silver Ferns were well led by Ameliaranne Ekenasio, who kept her unbeaten run as captain intact with a peerless performance while calmly guiding her team in all facets, particularly her partner in crime Maia Wilson.
With the lowering of Covid-19 restrictions and back at Level 1, crowds were welcomed through the doors for the first time during the series. A full house being on hand at Christchurch Arena to lend invaluable support to the Silver Ferns cause.
The smallest player across both teams, 1.68m midcourt pocket rocket Kimiora Poi was the only change to the starting seven for the Silver Ferns. On her home court, and the least experienced in the Silver Ferns line-up, it was just the second start for Poi in her short seven-Test career.
For the third successive Test, the Diamonds retained an unchanged starting line-up.
It was a frantic start by each side with turnovers going both ways before the Diamonds settled into their groove, reproducing the customary early edge they’ve held through the preceding tests.
Turnovers and stifling defence highlighted the low-scoring opening stanza, the Diamonds timing on attack with wing attack Liz Watson a prominent contributor, helping the visitors apply the blow torch.
At the other end, stifling defensive work limited the Silver Ferns attacking momentum as the Diamonds hit the first break with a 12-6 lead.
Shannon Saunders was injected on the resumption, taking over from Gina Crampton at wing attack as the Silver Ferns discovered their touch on attack while blunting Australia’s effectiveness on attack. Scoring the first six goals, the home side were back in the groove as they cut the deficit to just one.
With both sets of defensive units putting in huge efforts, the attacking lines were forced to work overtime but it was the Diamonds who managed to win the decisive turnovers with goal defence Courtney Bruce putting in a big shift to help her side wrest back the initiative when leading 22-17 at the main break.
Introduced for Sulu Fitzpatrick, goal defence Karin Burger made a big impact for the Silver Ferns during a resurgent third stanza. With Crampton also back in the fray, and willed on by an energised crowd, the Silver Ferns roared back into contention in another trend of the series.
Along with Burger, Poi was in the thick of action as both got their hands on precious turnover ball, while Ekenasio got through a huge workload in setting up Wilson with quality ball under the hoop, who delivered with a game-high 36 from 40.
Seven goals on the trot helped the Silver Ferns narrow the margin to just one as wing attack Verity Charles and wing defence Jamie-Lee Price came on late in the piece for the Diamonds, helping their side regain a 31-30 lead at the last break, to leave another thriller in store heading down the home straight.