New Zealand repelled a determined England 23-21 as the two best exponents of the abbreviated form of the game fought out a tight and tense final of the Fast5 World Netball Series in Auckland on Sunday.
In the end it was not the thrilling sight of long range goals rattling in that won the day – they were largely astray in the pressure-cooker situation – but staunch defence that proved the over-riding feature.
Embracing the spirit of the Fast5 concept, the Fast5 Ferns were all razzle dazzle in showing off their dancing ability as they ran on for the final, a spirited England joining in before it was down to business.
The England Fives made a strong start, two two-pointers from Jo Harten giving added impetus before rookie Bailey Mes, who continued to impress with her positioning, shooting and off-loads, nailed one of her own to get the Fast5 Ferns back in the hunt.
A three-pointer from dangerous long range shooter Rachel Dunn gave England the momentum heading into the first break, a 9-6 lead and the power play beckoning on the resumption.
Lifting their defensive intensity, where the ever-present Leana de Bruin was at her sparkling best, the Fast5 Ferns did a fine job of restricting the England Fives’ opportunities. An increasingly frustrated England took five minutes to post their first points of the stanza before Harten slotted a six-pointer to give her team a 19-14 lead at the main break.
It was the Fast5 Ferns’ turn to feel the heat in their power play during the third stanza, England applying huge defensive pressure and holding on to the ball for long periods as they starved the New Zealanders of vital possession.
England could only score two during the quarter but held a slender 21-20 lead at the last break as the Fast5 Ferns finally got some shots away in the latter stages.
In a frenetic last quarter, both teams were denied opportunities as time and again strong defensive exploits turned the ball over. The Fast5 Ferns levelled with four minutes to go, the score staying that way for another 2-1/2 minutes before they inched into the lead.
Harten had the chance to sink the winning shot from the three-point arc on the stroke of fulltime but it hit the rim and fell away, leaving England scoreless for the six-minute period in a telling tribute to the Fast5 Ferns.
With the Government contributing $600,000 to the tournament for the next three years, Prime Minister John Key was a keen spectator at the final, adding his endorsement to the action-packed concept.