Pumping music, hoardes of people, smoke, flashing strobe lights – to a pounding soundtrack and screams of the fans, the New World Netball World Championships is finally under way. In front of a packed house at the Trusts Stadium in Auckland, Netball New Zealand welcomed the world to their championships – and the world came to watch!
Maori singers and dancers got the competition off to a spinetingling start with a traditional Maori welcome that raised the hairs on the back of the neck. Tattooed warriors challenged the new arrivals to the Trusts stadium with a scary Haka while harmonising women singers gave a more gentle, pom pom waving welcome.
Game 1A caption:
New Zealand captain Adine Wilson in action against Malawi's Esther Kayira
during the Silver Ferns v Malawi match at the New World Netball World
Champs held at the Trusts Stadium Auckland New Zealand.
And the world is most definitely here. South Africans, Jamaicans, Barbadians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Welsh, Canadians – it’s not just the teams that have made the journeys. Spectators from around the globe have made the journey to this southern outpost to watch the game that they love, and to cheer on their team to the bitter end. They have been lounging in bars all day, or doing a bit of last minute shopping, just whiling away the minutes until the first game gets under way.
A nation which has competed in every World Championships since its inception, Australia opened the parade of nations, with captain Liz Ellis carrying the flag. Always the consummate captain, Ellis maintained a regal pace around the court, but allowed herself a wistful sideways glance at the Championships trophy as the team passed it! In distinct contrast, you could almost feel the excitement of Botswana, a team making its first World Championships appearance, and one of which much is expected, after their explosive debut at the World Youth Championships in 2005 where they surprised many fancied teams with their simple yet devastating style.
England’s fans were on their feet as Amanda Newton led out her side to the strains of “An Englishman in New York”, and several proud parents in the crowd were trying not to well up! Jamaica’s Aiken sisters seem to have grown even taller since they last came to England, while Malawi’s Queens seemed more interested in singing and dancing along with the music being played at their walk-on than focusing on the game to come later in the evening!!
Game 1B caption:
Silver Fern's Leana de Bruin and Malawi's linda Magombo compete during the
Silver Ferns v Malawi match at the New World Netball World Champs held at
the Trusts Stadium Auckland New Zealand
Scotland’s Lesley MacDonald entered the stadium waving her flag like a fan at Murrayfield and, accompanied by the strains of “Play that Funky Music” soon had their supporters on their feet! Meanwhile, Singapore, buoyed up by the award of the next World Championships to their country by IFNA earlier in the day, marched into the stadium with pride and purpose – and with several surprisingly tall players, for a nation renowned for its lack of height! As reigning Asian U21 champions, they could well pose some unexpected challenges in England’s groups.
Trinidad and Tobago brought rhythm and control to their march on with a regimented military and rhythmic march that had the crowds raving!
Ahead of the hosts Wales brought the march on to a close with a waving, smiling group march on, as Billy Bowers (now Pritchard) lapped up the applause in her final major championships as Welsh Captain.
And so to the Silver Ferns. You almost felt sorry for Wales as they reached the midpoint of their lap of honour, as the commentator had already turned his attention to the main attraction! With drums, soaring camera angles and screaming more familiar to those attending a Busted concert, Adine Wilson led her team onto court to a standing ovation. The weight of national expectation on the 12 players in her squad must be almost unbearable – how they can keep calm and focused under such intense scrutiny is something to wonder about. The man in the top balcony waved his Kiwi flag so violently looked like he might put his arm out, in his fervour to show his support for his team.
After the offical speeches, at last, after four years of preparation, the games could begin.
Sadly, the opening match didn’t rise to the heady heights that many had anticipated, with New Zealand running out relatively simple 85-26 winners over the Malawi Queens. The African side looked to be trying to amend their short, sharp passing game in favour of a long ball attack, but the change in tactics killed their chance to challenge effectively for the game, with the Queens making numerous handling errors. The other problem was that woman called van Dyk, who was totally determined to prove that she is still a force to be reckoned with. And prove it she did, scoring 42/42 in the first three quarters, before being substituted for the final period.
On this evidence, New Zealand will be very tough to beat this week – it’s up to the rest of the world to prove that statement wrong!