The rift that derailed the Silver Ferns' Commonwealth Games campaign

NZ Herald Staff,
Publish Date
Sunday, 22 April 2018, 7:10AM
Netball insiders says a rift between players and coaching staff was the cause for the Silver Ferns' capitulation at the Commonwealth Games. (Photo/ Getty)
Netball insiders says a rift between players and coaching staff was the cause for the Silver Ferns' capitulation at the Commonwealth Games. (Photo/ Getty)

A rift between players and coaching staff was behind the Silver Ferns' disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign, say netball insiders, and Janine Southby's position as coach of the team appears untenable.

The Herald on Sunday understands there is a significant disconnect between some members of the squad and Southby, and it is hard to see how the relationship is repairable.

After the Commonwealth Games failure - where New Zealand finished fourth, missing a medal (and the final) for the first time in their history - the heat is already on Southby.

She arrived on the Gold Coast under immense pressure, after unprecedented defeats to Jamaica earlier this year, which were preceded by a dismal showing in last October's Constellation Cup.

But that pressure is likely to be compounded by the upcoming review, set to start in two weeks, where all the players involved in the Ferns programme in the past two years can air their views.

From the players' point of view, there are said to be several issues.

To her credit, the former Southern Steel coach tried to create a player-driven environment within the squad, as has become de rigueur in the past decade across many sports, but there was frustration when certain strategies and ideas from the playing group weren't implemented.

Sources close to the team environment have also suggested some players struggled with the constant personnel changes and the rotation strategies employed by Southby and assistant Yvette McCausland-Durie during matches.

There has also been a failure to build a strong team culture, though that aspect wasn't helped by the absence of experienced players in the past two years.

And the inability to adjust and refine their game plan and tactics, either within a match or across a series, meant some players felt they weren't being given the best possible chance to succeed.

If players feel the review is an open and honest platform to air their views - with no repercussions - it's hard to see how Southby will get a glowing endorsement from some individuals within the group.

Images during the third quarter break of the bronze medal clash with Jamaica were telling. The team didn't seem engaged as Southby gave them advice in the huddle.

Captain Katrina Grant's television interview after the match was also revealing.

"We haven't had the right direction over the last few months," she said.

Later in the interview, she sidestepped a question about the players' level of confidence in Southby.

"At the moment, we're a team of 12 [players], and we're doing what we can. Maria [Folau] and I are trying to lead from the front. This group of women are amazing, no doubt about it, they've put everything on the line."

Of course, questions will also fall on the playing group. How many of them can say they performed to the best of their abilities on the Gold Coast?

But the buck always stops with the coach. The review has a much wider brief - and the reasons for New Zealand's decline in the past few years are multi-faceted - but Southby's win rate of 51 percent since her appointment in December 2015 can't be sugar-coated.

When contacted by the Herald on Sunday, Netball New Zealand chief executive Jennie Wyllie declined to comment on the relationship between Southby and the Ferns squad. She said there was nothing further to add from last Tuesday's press conference, where she set out the terms of reference of the review and the timings.