Australia set up an enticing match with England to decide the netball tri-series, after defeating world champions New Zealand 50-47 at the NIA in Birmingham this evening.
With the 2007 World championships in Auckland less than six months away, tonight's fixture was set to be tense and fiercely contested, and so it proved to be, with heavyweight clashes occuring throughout the court.
Inspirational Australian captain Liz Ellis put the usually solid Kiwi GS Irene van Dyk under pressure from the first whistle, and she wilted, making numerous handling errors and missing several easy shots at key times in the match.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the court, Australia's vice captain Sharelle McMahon shot with poise and control to register 24 of her side's goals, despite the close attentions of New Zealand's Joline Henry.
Photo-Netball and Women's Sport Report fans Rachel Keeley, Sarah Hill and Kirsty Wakely from BA Ladies Honiton Netball League, watch on as Australia defeat World N0 1 New Zealand.
Australia led 17-12 at the first interval, thanks to some fast passing and lightning reaction work between the von Bertouch sisters, McMahon and GS Susan Pratley in attack. New Zealand defenders Scarlett and de Bruin found it impossible to counter the pace of the Australians, and were frequently flailing after the ball had passed them.
Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken substituted Casey Williams to GK and Joline Henry at the start of the second quarter, and the change bore immediate fruit, with Williams intercepting the first Australian attacking movement. However, McMahon was by now on song, driving the baseline and slotting her goals, as well as using her superb vision to slip the ball to Pratley under the post. Tutaia scored three long range goals towards the end of the quarter to bring the Kiwis back into range, to close the gap to only two at half time, 24-22 in Australia's favour.
McMahon moved to GA for the second half, with Cox introduced at GS, and with the von Bertouch sisters displaying all their flair in the centre court, and Gilsenan and Gerrard mopping up any stray Kiwi passes, Australia held their own. Van Dyk, meanwhile, despite converting all her opportunities, had only nine shots on goal for the quarter, as Gerrard and Ellis effectively closed her down, and with Cox and McMahon's rotational work creating openings to exploit, Australia held firm, to lead 37-36 with 15 minutes to play.
McMahon's vision and Cox's accuracy, coupled with steely determination in all court defence, kept Australia ahead in the final period, and despite some accurate work from Maria Tutaia at GA for New Zealand, her efforts were too little too late.
Australia held on to take the win 50-47, and set up a mouthwatering final match up in the final round of games on Thursday, against England, who defeated New Zealand for the first time in 32 years on Sunday. The winner will take the Tri-Series trophy, and will be one of the favourites for the Netball World Championships, to be held in New Zealand in November. Meanwhile, for the current champions, it is back to the drawing board, to regain the form which saw them crowned the best in the world four years ago, and drove them to the Commonwealth title in Melbourne.
Starting line ups
Australia: GS McMahon, GA Pratley, WA N von Bertouch, C L von Bertouch, WD Gilsenan, GD Gerrard, GK Ellis
Changes/substitutions 3rd Q: GS Cox, McMahon to GA
New Zealand: GS Van Dyk, GA Tutaia, WA Wilson, C Seymour, WD Langman, GD Scarlett, GK de Bruin
Changes/substitutions: 2nd Q: GD Henry, GK Williams 3rd Q: C George
Australia: Cox 17/20, McMahon 24/27, Pratley 9/14
New Zealand: Tutaia 22/28, van Dyk 25/31
A Gutsy performance from both sides