Fives suffer mixed day in Melbourne
It will be a day full of tension tomorrow as the England Fives will require results to go their way in order to be in with a chance of lifting the Fast5 World Series trophy.
An incredible day of action was the epitome of a mixed bag for the Fives as they secured a big win, a narrow loss and a last-second draw from their three matches. This has left them in third place at the end of Day One.
Here’s how the day unfolded.
England 35-36 New Zealand
The tone for the 2016 tournament was set very early on as Australia and Jamaica claimed very narrow wins over Malawi and South Africa respectively.
That set the stage for England and New Zealand. The only two teams to have ever won this version of the game were first time out opponents this year.
To win, England had to break a remarkable streak that has seen the Silver Ferns go undefeated since they lost the 2011 final to the Fives.
The match started brightly with youngster Maia Wilson settling in well for New Zealand and Jo Harten leading the England charge.
As the interceptions started to build, both coaches took the chance to makes frequent changes and the two teams couldn’t be separated at the end of the opening quarter, 7-7.
Deadlock remained in Q2 with defence coming out on top over attack and the sides all square at 12-12 heading into half-time.
For the first time in two years, the Silver Ferns were forced to take a Power Play which wasn’t the final six minutes.
The tactic for the opposition was clear, double up from two-point range as often as possible. The only time this was broken was a fabulous Super Shot from Maria Tutaia for six and a close range effort to see out the quarter from Wilson.
It was a case of staying in touch for the Fives and with their Power Play to come, they had a 19-32 deficit to overturn.
Midway through the final quarter and England were struggling the gap had only been reduced by one point but they still had double points on offer.
Up stepped Harten. A huge six pointer had the Fives back in the game and following some phenomenal retrieval play by Eleanor Cardwell, she had the scores level with 30 seconds to go.
An astute Silver Ferns run the clock down and score a single to give England eight seconds to get the ball back to centre-pass and score.
The ball eventually reached Harten a couple of feet outside of the circle and with three seconds to go she had to turn and shoot. Her effort sailed just over and England were agonisingly defeated 35-36 as New Zealand narrowly retained their unbeaten run.
England 43-22 Malawi
Next up for the England team was a match against the unpredictable Queens of Malawi. In six previous matches in this shortened format, the teams had taken three wins a-piece.
Some loose shooting from Malawi in the opening six minutes gave the Fives a chance to take the lead and they duly delivered. A fine feed from Leah Kennedy into Harten the highlight of the quarter.
A 7-2 advantage was extended to 15-8 by half-time as Ama Agbeze picked up the loose ball in defence and started attacks which resulted in goals from Kadeen Corbin, Housby and the unfaltering Harten.
England continued the tactic of nullifying the opposition by trying to keep hands on the ball to run the clock. However, a couple of turnovers were created and Malawi had the gap down to one.
The Fives needed a response and a flurry of twos from Corbin and Harten heaped the pressure onto the Queens. The usually reliable Mwai Kumwenda was forced to attempt Super Shots to keep her side in the contest but a couple of misses left England 23-14 clear and with a Power Play to come.
It was a case of sensible Fast5 netball in the final quarter as England clocked up score after score, capped by a fine Super Shot on the whistle by Harten to confirm a 43-22 victory.
England 29-29 South Africa
Our final contest of the day was against the ever-improving South Africa team. Although they had lost out to Jamaica and New Zealand earlier on, they had shown how much of a threat they pose.
A remarkable first half saw 16 turnovers in twelve minutes as both sides struggled to break the defence of their opponents.
In the end England were able to take a narrow lead into the half-time, despite the match going goalless for nearly six minutes.
Heading into the South Africa Power Play, the Fives led 9-5.
As with the previous games, Tracey Neville’s team were focussed on possession netball. This tactic would kill time on the clock and allow England to nullify the Proteas attacking threat.
The tactic was working nicely and the scores were level with a couple of minutes to go in Q3. A late Proteas charge managed to put them into a slender 19-17 advantage but England had the Power Play up their sleeve for the final six minutes.
A tentative start from the Fives meant that they weren’t able to pull level until there was only three minutes to go.
Gradually, England asserted themselves on the quarter but a last minute Super Shot from Charmaine Baard gave South Africa some hope.
The ball was worked into Harten who took the penalty and netted to give the Fives a three-point lead with five seconds on the clock.
A quick Proteas centre was played into Baard and with one second to go she unleashed a long range shot which flew through the net and secured South Africa an unlikely 29-29 draw.
With the points shared it means that England face an uphill task to qualify for the Gold Medal match tomorrow morning.
Victories over Australia and Jamaica will be required with other results having to fall the way of the Fives.
Day Two gets underway exclusively live on Sky Sports Mix from 1am on Sunday morning. You can follow the Fives in Melbourne on the official @England_Netball twitter account.
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