Q3 19-13 (Eng PP)
Q4: 24-21 (NZ PP)
England versus New Zealand is a must-watch fixture, always, whatever and where-ever you are. It is what Sky+ was invented for. So the M.E.N Arena was rightly ready for a clash of the Titans in The Co-operative World Netball Series in only their second attempt at playing international Fast Net.
England’s opener against Samoa had stuck to the form book bringing a comfortable win for the host nation, while New Zealand had to use their final quarter Power Play to get ahead of Malawi. What had the teams learned from the first taste of the competition?
Well the hosts have certainly discovered how to settle quickly, taking this six minute blast 5-3 it was a case of staying cool under the posts, Jo Hartens seemingly unflappable, while at the other end M and M (that’s Mkoloma and Mentor) flustered the Silver Ferns into errors.
Getting into the swing of the competition the crowd was baying for the flamboyant lobs from the sidelines and a Power-Play but it was a little early for that sort of behaviour and neither team was willing to squander a safe point by gambling on two. Things were getting more physical in this second quarter and New Zealand pulled themselves back into the game to end the half 9-9.
The team coaches have a great part to play in this competition not only can they bay out directions from the bench (not that the players can hear them once they get on court above the roar of the crowd) but they also get to push a big red button to signal the Power Play. Sue Hawkins’ touch sends shooting flames into the air and triggers bombing music - to let the arena know that for the next six minutes England’s goals with be worth double.
This tinkering of the rules creates a real buzz on and off the court. The fans are looking for the “golden double-bubble”; a shot from outside the circle in the power-play is worth four points. For the team in the hot-seat it is a case of landing every possible shot and their opponents are looking at damage limitation. It steps up the energy of the game even further as every hit or miss could be crucial. Rachel Dunn came on at goal-shooter, she missed a four-pointer and the rolling substitution rule saw her make way for Jo Harten the epitome of concentrated relaxation - she seems to make both possible at the same time. In this PP no four-pointers and only a six point lead heading into the final quarter, would it be enough.
Sonia Mkoloma was full of advice for the team whose on-court huddle involved plenty of gesticulating about what needed to be done. New Zealand were into their Power Play, England have to work twice as hard to stay in front. With 30 seconds to play the Ferns could have levelled the match but the ball looped out of the hoop and England stayed 23-21 up; the superb defence from the M&M defensive pairing saw the ball sent back down to the steady calm in attack for Harten to sink.
England matched the Ferns goal-for-goal in the final quarter to win by three points and end Day 1 unbeaten.
GS: Jo Harten GA:Pamela Cookey WA: Karen Atkinson C Jade Clarke WD Sara Bayman GD Sonia Mkoloma GK Geva Mentor
REPS: Rachel Dunn, Tamsin Greenway, Serena Guthrie, Stacey Francis, Eboni Beckford-Chambers.
GS: Irene Van Dyke GA: Maria Tutaia WA: Liana Barrett-Chase C Temepara George WD: Laura Langman GD: Casy Williams GK: Katrina Grant
REPS:Paula Griffin, Joline Henry, Wendy Telfer, Anna Thompson, Larrissa Willcox.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS