The Silver Ferns kept their Constellation Cup hopes alive after they posted a thrilling 54-53 win over Australia in the third Test of the Series in Sydney on Sunday.
After winning the first and third tests, the Silver Ferns now take a 2-1 lead into the series decider to be held in Perth next Sunday. The Silver Ferns have not won the Constellation Cup since 2012.
After being on the back foot for much of the first half, the world champion showed their growing confidence and resilience with an emphatic second half reply. There was no sign of panic as the Silver Ferns set about producing a comeback to savour in front of a 14,000-strong Australian crowd.
Shooters Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio rose to the occasion after a torrid early examination while the outing was custom-made for captain and player of the match, Laura Langman, who was a dominating presence throughout.
``We worked really hard over the last few days. It had been quite painful re-watching the second test and it was just really pleasing we were able to go toe-to-toe with Australia and keep that composure at the end,’’ the skipper said afterwards.
``It was a fantastic match. It was so intense and you couldn’t fault the heart out there. There’s no better matches than Aussie vs New Zealand to play in.’’
Recovered from a knee strain, Gina Crampton gained her first outing of the series in Sydney, at wing attack, in the only change to the Silver Ferns starting seven from the second test.
There were no changes from Australia which included a second straight start for newcomer Laura Scherian at wing attack.
In a fast and furious opening, the Diamonds got away to a flyer on the back of quick and accurate through-court play. Five goals on the trot pushed the home team out to a six-goal advantage before the Silver Ferns responded with a stirring fightback.
Finding more space on attack, Crampton worked strongly in tandem with her midcourt partner Langman and shooter Folau. With more ball at their disposal, the Silver Ferns cut the deficit to three when Australia hit the first break with a 16-13 lead.
It was a similar scenario during the second stanza where fortunes for both teams ebbed and flowed.
Maintaining their precision on attack, with goal attack Gretel Tippett picking up where she left off in the second test, Australia, once again, looked ominous.
Not to be outdone, the Silver Ferns found more fluency on attack with Folau and her shooting partner Ekenasio showing fine touch under the hoop with their accuracy and ability to find space.
At the other end, in-circle defenders Jane Watson and Karin Burger created turnover opportunities to keep the Silver Ferns well in the contest when they closed to within one goal. But Australia retained their edge to take a 30-26 lead into the main break.
Bringing on the fresh legs of Shannon Saunders for Crampton, the Silver Ferns turned the game on its head during a thrilling and eventful third quarter. An 8-1 scoring streak to open proceedings helped the Silver Ferns turn the tables.
Burger and Watson provided telling influences to disrupt Australia’s flow while Ekenasio and Folau were increasingly prominent figures at the Silver Ferens shooting end. Regaining the lead for the first time since the opening goal, the Silver Ferns, with captain Langman leading the charge, forced the Diamonds into change.
With Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip taking over shooting duties for the Diamonds, the teams ran neck-and-neck through the closing stages of the third stanza with the home team just keeping their noses in front when leading 43-42 at the last turn.