Silver Ferns stun England to reach Netball World Cup final

Author
Liam Napier,
Section
Netball,
Publish Date
Sunday, 21 July 2019, 9:23AM
New Zealand players celebrate after beating England in the Netball World Cup semifinal. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
New Zealand players celebrate after beating England in the Netball World Cup semifinal. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Clinical and courageous, the Silver Ferns have stunned England 47-45 at their home World Cup to defy the odds and advance to the final against Australia in Liverpool (4am Monday NZT).

England last lost to the Ferns almost two years ago but the hosts quickly discovered pressure and expectation make World Cups a different beast - and they didn't cope with it well.

In the end, the Commonwealth Games champions' bubble burst; Tracey Neville's side left devastated at the finish.

Led by Jane Watson and their supreme defensive end, and near flawless shooting from Ameliaranne Ekenasio (17/17) and Maria Folau (19/23), the Ferns began brilliantly to score the first five goals.

England responded with a 15-9 second quarter to lead 24-21 at halftime.

The Ferns regrouped to perform their own 15-9 third-quarter reversal to take a three-goal lead into the final period.

Down the stretch, amid all the drama and noise, experience and composure came to the fore as the Ferns held their nerve in netball's joint-closest World Cup semifinal to book their spot in the finale.

From the feverish, sellout 10,000-strong crowd to the venue and recent results, everything was stacked against New Zealand.

That they prevailed in such a cauldron atmosphere is testament to their character.

Noeline Taurua deserves immense credit for the 11-month transformation she has masterminded on the Ferns.

From failing to medal at the Commonwealth Games for the first time to the World Cup final, this is some feat, and another reminder that Taurua should have been given the top job long ago.

Taurua's emotion at the end said everything about what this upset means to her tight-knit group, and to New Zealand.

"Everyone out there did their jobs and did it bloody well for 60 minutes," Silver Ferns captain Laura Langman said. "It's been a journey and one I was reflecting on this morning. If you look around the players who got the nod to come here there's been so much personal development. Today you could tell how much it meant."

Signalling they were ready to rise for the occasion, the Ferns burst out of the bocks to leave England immediately rattled. Watson tipped the first three England possessions New Zealand's way, and Folau stepped up to make them count.

Nerves were evident early from England. Jo Harten missed her first two shots but as England regrouped, the crowd slowly sprung from their stunned state.

New Zealand's defensive trio produced superhuman efforts. Watson caused havoc, as did Casey Kopua, and Katrina Rore at wing defence supported well further up the court where she enjoyed the better of Chelsea Pitman.

That trio formed the backbone as the Ferns took a 12-9 first-quarter lead.

England quickly drew level at the start of the second quarter but tenacious defence again fuelled the Ferns as they pushed out to a six-goal lead.

Midway through the second quarter, England coach Tracey Neville was forced to make her first change, pulling Pitman for Natalie Haythornthwaite, who made an immediate impact at wing attack.

That change, coupled with New Zealand's midcourt squandering crucial possession – Gina Crampton guilty on two occasions – allowed England to peg back the lead and eventually pull in front by halftime.

Taurua's halftime talk sparked the Ferns as they again tied the scores and New Zealand then turned to fresh legs in the form of Shannon Francois, who came on for Crampton at wing attack.

Turning with a three-goal buffer for the final quarter, Ekenasio and Folau nailed clutch shots to hold England off and spoil their predicted dance with destiny in the final.

No, instead, it's now the Ferns who get the chance to pull off a miraculous triumph.

"We've worked hard especially in the self-responsibility and expectation areas," Langman said. "When you put on the black dress there's a minimum standard you need to meet now and there's no budging on it. Today you saw that come to the fore."