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Winning start for Silver Ferns in return of Test netball

After an absence of nine months, the Silver Ferns celebrated the return of international netball with a 58-45 win over the England Roses in the Cadbury Netball Series opener in Hamilton on Wednesday.

With the Taini Jamison Trophy on the line, the Silver Ferns led from start to finish in the first of the three-Test series against a gritty England, who have not played since January and have gone through a lot to be here as a result of the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

Ushering in a new era for their first official Test match at home since becoming world champions last year marked the return of some familiar faces to the fold for the Silver Ferns. That was highlighted by midcourter Sam Winders, playing her first Test since early 2019, and influential defender Sulu Fitzpatrick making the starting line-up for the first time in just her fourth Test.

In a remarkable personal achievement, shooter Monica Falkner played out the final six minutes of the match to become Silver Fern #176, making her debut 15 months after being side-lined with a serious knee injury.

With both teams making a number of changes throughout, the pair will look for more cohesion in Friday’s second test after blowing out the cobwebs.

For England, there was plenty of experience in their starting seven which featured shooter Kadeen Corbin, and well-travelled midcourters Serena Guthrie, playing in her 99th Test, and Jade Clarke, in her 177th international outing.

The Silver Ferns were quickly into their stride, the timing and connection between shooters Maia Wilson and captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio continuing to flourish. At the other end, the Silver Ferns picked off a lot of ball in England’s attacking third where goalkeeper Fitzpatrick was a constant threat.

England struggled to get enough ball to their accurate shooters as the Silver Ferns went to the first break with a 15-10 lead.

The Silver Ferns remained unchanged on the resumption while the Roses were quick to shore up their areas of concern.

Eleanor Caldwell went from goal attack to goal shoot, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis came from the bench and into goal attack, while Imogen Allison, on debut, took over from Clarke at wing defence.

The result was a more purposeful and productive England on attack as the visitors’ level-pegged with the Silver Ferns. Laura Malcolm was a strong connection with her shooters where Cardwell’s accuracy and range shone through.

The Silver Ferns introduced Karen Burger at wing defence for Winders and Claire Kersten, making her first appearance since 2018, on for Shannon Saunders, which coincided with a late surge from the home side.

Wilson continued to impress, converting 20 goals from 21 while Caldwell wasn’t far behind with 15 from 17 as the Silver Ferns improved to a 32-24 lead at the main break.

There were more changes for the Roses for the third quarter with Southern Steel-bound recruit George Fisher taking over at goal shoot, Gabriella Marshall coming off the bench to centre and Guthrie moving to wing defence.

England held their own through this part of the match, lifting their efforts on defence where Francesca Williams and Marshall exerted enough pressure to create turnover opportunities. Showing their accuracy under the hoop, the Roses narrowed the gap to six before the Silver Ferns produced a late run to retain their ascendancy.

Wilson and Ekenasio continued to convert most opportunities that came their way while the in-circle defensive pairing of Jane Watson and Fitzpatrick were a constant presence with their hustle and bustle as the Silver Ferns pushed out to 46-35 lead at the last break.