11 Jun 2011

First blood to Australia

1:42 pm on 11 June 2011

Australia have fought their way to a gritty 52-47 victory over New Zealand in the first trans-Tasman netball Test at Palmerston North.

The new-look tourists made a couple of crucial substitutions in the third quarter that turned the game as the Silver Ferns didn't adjust.

The Ferns were missing regular captain Casey Williams, who wasn't risked with a calf injury, but led by four goals at half-time and by six goals early in the third quarter in front of a packed house at Arena Manawatu.

But New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken substituted stand-in skipper Temepara George at the major break, the home side's intensity fell away and the Ferns were unable to recover.

Diamonds coach Norma Plummer brought on Test debutante Chelsea Pitman in the third stanza while Australia's 196-centimetre goalkeeper Susan Fuhrmann also did much better against Irene van Dyk than the shorter Laura Geitz.

Pitman, a 23-year-old wing attack, replaced Kimberlee Green and looked right at home on the international stage alongside her trans-Tasman championship winning team-mate, the Queensland Firebirds goal-attack Natalie Medhurst.

The Australians finished the third quarter trailing by just a goal 39-38 - then completely outplayed the Silver Ferns in the final period for the solid victory.

Aitken thinks they missed injured captain Casey Williams' attack as well as her leadership, though Leanna du Bruin and Anna Scarlett did plenty especially in the first half, but it's a four-quarter game.

The coach also praised Irene van Dyk's variety and the veteran shooter kept defender Laura Geitz quiet, which was pleasing though Fuhrmann was effective when the Diamonds switched to the giant defender and her longer limbs, and better footwork is needed against her.

The first of the two-Test series was the usual brutal encounter between the top-ranked countries ahead of the upcoming World Championships but George wasn't blaming the physicality afterwards - she came out on top in her absorbing encounter with wing defence Mo'onia Gerrard but says the Ferns failed to adjust as the Diamonds stepped it up late in the game.

Australian goal defence Julie Corletto was named player of match, which was remarkable in her first Test in almost two years following knee surgery.

The second Test is on Sunday in Auckland.