Silver Ferns fade in second half to lose Quad Series decider to Australia

At International Convention Centre, Cape Town: Australia 56 (Cara Koenen: 33/34, Steph Wood: 23/28) Silver Ferns 50 (Grace Nweke: 39/45, Ameliaranne Ekenasio: 11/11) 1Q: 15-19, HT: 30-31, 3Q: 44-40.

An error-ridden third quarter saw the Silver Ferns’ Quad Series title hopes slip away.

Australia made it seven Quad Series triumphs from eight tournaments, overpowering the Ferns in the second half to capture the title with a 56-50 win in Cape Town on Thursday (NZ time).

It continued the Diamonds’ recent dominance against the Ferns, winning the last four contests dating back to last year’s Constellation Cup.

Australia will take the favorite’s tag into the July-August World Cup, which will also be contested in Cape Town, but the Ferns will know they aren’t too far behind the classy Diamonds.

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The Diamonds outplayed the Ferns after halftime, winning the second half 26-19, after New Zealand had led 31-30 at the main break.

There were comical scenes with seven minutes left in the final quarter with the Ferns trailing 51-45. Ameliaranne Ekenasio netted a goal, but the umpires were distracted by a physical challenge between Grace Nweke and Australia’s Courtney Bruce under the hoop and missed the goal being scored.

Grace Nweke slotted 39 from 45 in the Silver Ferns' Quad Series final loss to Australia.

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Grace Nweke slotted 39 from 45 in the Silver Ferns’ Quad Series final loss to Australia.

Because they didn’t see the goal scored live it didn’t count, and they went with a toss-up to sort the next possession.

This was another fiercely fought encounter between these great rivals and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see them on the same court in the World Cup final on August 6.

Australia were well served by their balanced attacking end with both shooters putting up the goals. Goal shooter Cara Koenen was superb with 33 from 34, while goal attack Steph Wood had another standout showing, landing 23 from 28.

At times, New Zealand were too reliant on star shooter Nweke, who copped plenty of defensive attention throughout the game.

Australian captain Liz Watson brings the ball through the court against the Ferns.

Grant Pitcher/Getty Images

Australian captain Liz Watson brings the ball through the court against the Ferns.

The Ferns clung to a 31-30 lead at halftime, but it was Australia who started the second half the more accurate side.

They were finally able to force the Ferns into some attacking mistakes and capitalized from those turnovers to hit the lead.

Australia began the second half with a critical 10-3 run, opening up a four-goal buffer (40-34), their largest lead of the game to that point. The Diamonds scored five unanswered goals in a match-altering stretch of play.

It was a rough patch of netball from the Ferns who battled to get the ball into Nweke with Australia producing swarming through court defense and forcing errors.

Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio assesses her options in the Quad Series final against Australia.

Grant Pitcher/Getty Images

Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio assesses her options in the Quad Series final against Australia.

New Zealand were restricted to just nine goals in the third quarter, committing seven turnovers in the term, which crippled them.

Coach Dame Noeline Taurua showed faith in her players, refusing to go to the bench, even when Australia surged ahead in the third quarter and started to take control.

Silver Ferns goal shoot Grace Nweke and Australia's Sarah Klau contest for the ball in the Quad Series final.

Grant Pitcher/Getty Images

Silver Ferns goal shoot Grace Nweke and Australia’s Sarah Klau contest for the ball in the Quad Series final.

The sides traded goals back and forth for most of the first quarter with both sides slick on attack and defensive turnovers hard to come by.

New Zealand finished the term strongly with a mini-run to head into the first quarter break with confidence, leading 19-15.

Australian circle defenders Sarah Klau and Bruce had few answers to Nweke in the early going, who got the better of them, landing 17 out of 19 in the first 15 minutes.

Nweke was the main option in the Ferns’ shooting end with the feeders looking to her even when she was double-teamed by Klau and Bruce.

It was slick attacking netball in the first half with just one clean intercept from either side through Ash Brazill (Australia) and Karin Burger for the Ferns.

In the third and fourth playoff, England prevailed over South Africa 49-42.

Best on court

Koenen was very good in the Diamonds’ attacking end, but Wood had another fine game and might just be the best goal attack in world netball. She hurt the Ferns in their round game and was again influential as a feeder and shooter, sinking 23 goals.

The big moment

Straight after halftime. The Ferns came out sluggish to start the third quarter with Australia going on a 10-3 run and scoring five goals in a row. Any team who does that against the world-best Diamonds will find it challenging to win.

Match rating: 7/10

This was a typical trans-Tasman clash that ebbed and flowed most of the way, but not quite the classic we sometimes get. If these sides meet again in the World Cup final on August 6, it shouldn’t shock anyone.

The big picture

Australia will head to the July-August World Cup as firm favorites, holding the Quad Series title, Commonwealth Games gold, and the Constellation Cup. The Ferns have lost four straight to their fierce rivals and have plenty of work to do before the World Cup to close that gap.

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