The Diamonds face a day of soul-searching and analysis after new-look New Zealand stunned them with a 52-47 upset win at the Netball World Cup.
Raging favourites to claim a third consecutive world title, the world No.1 Australians suffered a cold reality check in front of a world-record netball crowd of 16,233 for their pool match at Sydney’s Allphones Arena on Sunday.
“We can drop our teddies and run and cry in the corner, but we’re made of better stuff,” said coach Lisa Alexander after the Diamonds’ first World Cup defeat in 12 years.
“The girls realise it’s a World Cup and they’re not just going to turn up and win.
“There’s no doubt that we have to, over this next 24 hours, really look deeply at ourselves, which includes the coaching staff.”
Not only did the loss break the defending champions’ nine-match winning streak against their long-time rivals for world supremacy, it also snapped the Diamonds’ 21-Test winning streak and ended any notion of a straightforward run to the silverware.
Australia had been unsure of what to expect from the Silver Ferns’ recently revamped line-up.
What they got was a bold, clinical and unforgiving display from an outfit that, while making some mistakes, left the even more error-ridden hosts chasing throughout the entire nail-biting contest.
The win guaranteed the Silver Ferns finish at the top of Pool A and take a psychological edge as they head into the qualification rounds starting on Tuesday.
Both Alexander and Diamonds captain Laura Geitz lamented Australia’s uncharacteristic sloppiness throughout, but tried to see the positives from a wake-up call early in the tournament.
“It’s disappointing obviously, but I think it’s a good thing for us as a group to maybe experience early on,” Geitz said.
“If you don’t play to the standards that we set, that’s exactly what happens and that’s a really good reality check for all of us.
“Full credit to the Silver Ferns, they put out a really great performance, and a little bit of a different performance than traditionally what we expect of them.
“We just weren’t quick enough to adjust … we were our own worst enemy at times.”
New Zealand brought fierce defensive pressure from the start, with formidable centre Laura Langman combining with wing defence Kayla Cullen to crucially disrupt Australia’s feeding engines Kim Ravaillion and Kim Green in their efforts to supply the shooters.
The Silver Ferns pounced on Australia’s unsteady start, building momentum throughout the second quarter as the Diamonds struggled to get the ball into their attacking third.
Initially nervous, New Zealand veteran Maria Tutaia found her eye, sinking some sublime long-range goals to finish with 34 from 48 attempts while new shooter Bailey Mes made 18 of 21.
For Australia, shooter Caitlin Bassett did her bit for Australia with 38 goals from 42 attempts.
Australia’s high penalty count cost them dearly, racking up 17 contacts to their opponents’ five in the first quarter alone, with captain Geitz the main offender.
The Australians rallied late with the help of stints from the feisty defender Sharni Layton and mid-courter Paige Hadley, but couldn’t peg back the Kiwis.
Second-placed Australia now move into a second-phase pool with world No.3 England, South Africa and either Uganda or Wales, with a likely clash against England on Tuesday night.