Silver Ferns rebound for bronze with 'clinical' win over England

Brodyn Knuckey
Source: 1News

The Silver Ferns have righted some of the wrongs of their infamous campaign four years ago with a Commonwealth Games bronze medal after a fierce showdown with England on Monday morning.

Four years on from their fourth place finish on the Gold Coast, Kiwi netball fans had every right to be concerned heading into the bronze medal match that history could repeat itself after their brutal loss to Jamaica the day before in the semi-finals.

However, two changes from coach Dame Noeline Taurua to the starting seven that faced the Sunshine Girls had a huge impact on the Silver Ferns' final match in Birmingham with both Grace Nweke and Kelly Jury having stellar performances at either end of the court.

Nweke, seemingly buoyed from her perfect shooting performance off the bench against Jamaica, wasn't afraid to use her size and physicality early on to assert herself in the circle and it didn't take long for her teammates to pick up on it.

With her teammates feeding her the ball and with it more confidence, Nweke got off to another perfect start with in a tense first quarter as both sides came out scrapping for possession and the lead with physicality and passion that would have made anyone think it was the gold medal contest.

However, a turnover with five minutes to go in the first quarter gave the Silver Ferns the first chance to create a meaningful break in the deadlock and despite Te Paea Selby-Rickit missing the first attempt to seal it, a rebound from Nweke and follow up shot ensured they secured it.

That left the Silver Ferns with a 14-13 lead after the opening 15 minutes with Jury and Phoenix Karaka constantly pressuring England's shooters whenever the ball came down their end.

The pressure started to show for England in the second quarter as the Silver Ferns racked up more turnovers from the midcourt and rebounds, allowing them to build on their lead to the dismay of a sold out National Events Centre crowd.

The Silver Ferns were helped by some discipline issues by England as well with English goal shoot Eleanor Cardwell giving the ball away via a needless contact penalty as she shoved Jury off the ball while play was dead.

With 20-year-old Nweke continuing to own the the other shooting circle, the Silver Ferns ended up outscoring the hosts 15-10 in the second quarter, handing them a 29-23 lead at halftime.

England refused to give up on a potential comeback in the third quarter but every time they managed to claw one point back, the New Zealand defence of Karaka, Jury and Kate Heffernan took one point back.

The tick-for-tack trading of blows saw the sides score 12 goals each in the third quarter, meaning the Silver Ferns still held a six-goal lead - 41-35 to be precise - heading into the final 15 minutes of the match.

Heading back out for the final quarter, Taurua told her team they had been "clinical" so far in the contest and all that was left was to finish it.

Seeking a comeback miracle, England shifted Cardwell out to goal attack to introduce veteran Joanne Harten in the circle.

An early turnover nullified the excitement of Harten's arrival though, allowing Nweke to push the lead to eight to open the fourth quarter.

England responded soon after though with another turnover to pull the deficit back to six - a moment that launched the crowd into an excited frenzy as they tried to lift their side.

But while the crowd was on England's side, time wasn't - and despite reducing the deficit to four to the delight of the majority of those in attendance, England only had four more minutes to make up for their second quarter lapse.

The Silver Ferns remained composed though, taking their time to find Nweke in the dying moments to eat up the final seconds and with it secure them the bronze medal.

"That was massive. It’s been a really good experience for this team and the opportunity to see what it takes to be a top-four team,’’ Taurua said.

"Our ball retention, our ability to take them on, in both attack and defence, a low error rate, everybody doing their jobs, and ability to execute….we did that well today.

"It was our mindset and our killer instinct that worked well today and I couldn’t be prouder of the players and what they did out there.’’

Taurua ended up not using any of her bench in the contest but they still played a vital role too; an animated Maia Wilson spent next to no time in her seat on the sidelines as she advised, supported and even danced for Nweke throughout the match.

That positive energy was present across the entire squad on and off the court in comparison to their semi-final against Jamaica where nerves and uncertainty led to errors.

But all of that was forgotten Monday morning with the side now left to watch Jamaica and Australia clash for the gold medal before the focus shifts to next year's world cup and how they can defend it.

Silver Ferns 55 [Nweke 44/48, Selby-Rickit 11/14]

England 48 [Cardwell 31/34, Housby 13/17, Harten 4/5]

HT: 22-36