The England Fives put up a battling display but were ultimately undone in their quest for the Fast5 title on Finals Day in Melbourne.
Harten named Player of the Tournament but valiant Fives miss out on Fast5 glory
Instead Tracey Neville’s team had to settle for fourth place as they lost out to the Malawi Queens in the bronze medal match. The tournament ended on a high for the Fives though as sharp-shooting Joanne Harten was named MVP at the closing ceremony.
Australia and New Zealand played out the final and it was the Silver Ferns who won their fourth straight title with an incredible 41-16 victory which included keeping the Diamonds goalless throughout their Power Play in the final quarter.
It was always going to be an uphill battle to reach the gold medal match following yesterday’s dramatic last gasp draw with South Africa and an early loss to Australia all but confirmed the Fives would miss out on the showpiece finale.
Despite that, the team responded brilliantly to see off the challenge of Jamaica in their second group match of the day before a Queens’ performance inspired my Mwai Kumwenda, condemned the Fives to fourth spot.
Here’s how Finals Day unfolded for the Fives.
England 20-26 Australia
Needing two wins from two matches on Finals Day was always going to be tricky for the Fives and the day could not have started any trickier than facing unbeaten hosts, the Australian Diamonds.
The England team took to the court sporting black armbands, paying their respects after news filtered through of the sad loss of Surrey Storm team manager, Tom Reseigh.
A tentative start was made from both teams with the policy of close range attempts taking precedence.
Each team ticked over their scoring with singles and at the end of the opening quarter, England had managed to edge ahead, 4-3.
More adventurous shooting came to the fore in the second quarter with Caitlin Thwaites and Jo Harten exchanging two goal attempts. Australia slowly gained the upper hand and when a last second long range effort from Kadeen Corbin bounced out, the hosts had moved 12-9 in front.
The Diamonds took their Power Play in Q3 and an early Erin Bell four-pointer showed the threat that the home side possessed when double points were up for grabs.
However, England were tactically wonderful in the quarter. Patient build-up, fabulous defence and clever passing restricted the Diamonds lead to 20-12 with six minutes to go.
Crucially, the Fives had their Power Play for the final quarter. It started well as Harten immediately scored from mid-range for four to reduce the gap.
Australia took a lead from their opponents and attempted to control the tempo but when Harten hit another four to cut the deficit to three with over two minutes on the clock, an England upset was a distinct possibility.
Geva Mentor was on the hunt for rebounds and when she claimed one, England had their chance.
The ball was lost in the mid-court though and with seconds running out, the Fives had to look for a Super Shot to steal the win.
A well-drilled Diamonds defence were aware of the scoreboard pressure and as England rushed attempted feeds, they stepped in to steal possession and see out the win.
England 32-19 Jamaica
The following fixture of the night saw New Zealand defeat Jamaica to confirm that England would be playing for 3rd place at best. To do this they too had to overcome the Sunshine Girls.
Staying in the spirit of the tournament, the Fives showed off some athletic ability on their entrance to the match as Kadeen Corbin performed a walking handstand and Helen Housby cartwheeled her way onto court.
The fun and frivolity of Fast5 continued when the whistle went as both sides went into attack mode.
A flurry of lightning quick moves were being finished from close range by Jo Harten and Housby. Shantal Slater ensured Jamaica stayed in touch despite being 9-8 behind after the opening quarter.
In the second set of six minutes, Harten decided to show off her range of shooting, nailing a big Super Shot and adding a pair of twos to put the Fives 18-12 ahead at half-time.
The Power Play advantage was with England in Q3 and they took early benefit. This time Harten’s twos counted double and with eight more points on the board, the Fives were dominant.
Good defensive play from the Sunshine Girls did stem the flow of attacks from England but a last second double from Harten moved the Fives 28-15 clear with six minutes to go.
This time Jamaica had the upper hand with their Power Play. The tactic of close range singles for Slater continued and with them now counting as two, the Caribbean side started to reduce the gap.
Having been scoreless for half of the final quarter, England finally clicked with Harten and Ellie Cardwell finding the net. The defence also started to have success as Geva Mentor and Ama Agbeze regularly won ball back for the Fives.
Desperation set in for Jamaica who fired off several long range attempts to no success asEngland held on to secure a comfortable win and set up a shot at winning the bronze.
England 32-35 Malawi, 3rd place play-off
A convincing win over the Queens on Day One did not necessarily mean that the Fives were guaranteed to finish on the podium and so it proved as an unpredictable Malawi suffered hit top gear and punished errant England shooting.
Early on Jo Harten found her range and nailed a pair of two pointers but this simply kept England in touch as the Queens found space in the final third to allow Kumwenda to net.
An 8-5 advantage for the African team moved to 17-10 by the half-time interval as Kumwenda pulled her team clear, scoring all of the Malawi points at a shooting accuracy of over 90%.
England were on the Power Play in the third quarter and Harten took it upon herself to pull the Fives back into the game. Two Super Shots for six points had the Fives ahead but the lead was a small one, 26-21.
The hot hands of Kumwenda would have the Power Play in the final six minutes and she took advantage. With goals from the inner circle doubling up as two points, the England lead was inevitably overtaken.
Harten and Kadeen Corbin did their best with an array of two pointers to keep England in touch but it was an uphill task.
A late Malawi goal left England with ten seconds to score a Super Shot and take the game to extra-time. The ball was worked to Corbin but her effort agonisingly bounced out on the final whistle.
The Queens took to the court to celebrate and danced with delight on confirmation of their best ever finish at a Fast5 event.
For the Fives it was a lesson in just how cruel this shorter format of the game can be.
England are next in action during the three-match Vitality Netball International Series against Jamaica.
Tickets for the London and Manchester fixtures are sold-out and less than 100 remain for the match at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Grab yours and #RiseForTheRoses here.