One loss and the defending Netball World Cup champions might not even be in the semifinals.
The Silver Ferns have suffered a shock draw to hosts South Africa, an equation they weren’t expecting.
Up by one with possession with 15 seconds to go, all the Ferns needed to do was hold on to the ball, but a flying intercept from Phumza Maweni sent the ball back to the Proteas’ shooting circle. Nichole Taljaard sank the long-range shot to tie it 48-all.
The Kiwis have only lost to South Africa once – back in 1995 when Irene van Dyk was still playing for her country of birth.
The Ferns won by 20 goals the last time the two teams met, and after the Proteas’ key shooter Lenize Potgieter was ruled out from the Netball World Cup with injury, confidence was high for the Kiwis.
But the South Africans were spurred on by their home crowd, and won the last two quarters to boost their chances of making the semi.
So what do the Ferns need to do to stay in the competition?
They play Jamaica this evening, which isn’t a must-win game, but a win would go a long way.
If the Ferns lose to Jamaica and South Africa beat Uganda tomorrow morning, the Kiwis and the Proteas will both finish pool play with seven points. The deciding factor would be goal difference.
New Zealand currently have the superior goal difference, but a heavy loss to Jamaica could see them plummet below South Africa – especially if the hosts record a big win over Uganda.
It would be a shock exit from the tournament for the Ferns, who were looking to win back-to-back titles for the first time.
To beat Jamaica, the Ferns need to stick to their game plan and not panic when the intensity rises and the game gets more physical. They’ll need to rely on their experienced players to calm play, and avoid any rushes of blood to the head.
The Ferns started the game with patience, the South African defence smothering. As the game wore on, coach Dame Noeline Taurua was forced to make changes, the New Zealand attack faltering and struggling to find their shooters.
How much of this result was due to the Ferns losing one of their key players, goal shoot Grace Nweke?
Known for her dominance under the hoop, Nweke’s height and hold would have been beneficial in the second half when the Ferns feeders grew doubtful.
The Ferns’ moving circle worked well in the first half, but when the Proteas defenders started getting the better of the Ferns shooters, a solid presence in the circle would have calmed the Ferns.
Maia Wilson shot 37 from 41 attempts, but was called for a handful of offensive contacts, giving away five turnovers in attack, while captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio was subbed for young Tiana Metuarau, playing just her second game of the World Cup after being called in as injury replacement for Nweke.
Silver Ferns assistant coach Deb Fuller told Sky Sport there were lessons to come out of the draw.
“I think it’s just awareness about what’s happening in those big moments and actually being quite comfortable in them,” she said about the final moments of the game.
“We had a young group out there in the attack end, so it was an opportunity to see what they could do.”
At the end of the match, five of the seven players on court were playing in their first World Cup, Karin Burger and Jane Watson the only two with World Cup experience to play out the final quarter.
It was a match the Ferns could have easily won, by just keeping a calm head in the final minute – difficult with a crowd roaring so loud as players couldn’t hear each other.
“There were so many good things that we did out on court, we just didn’t shut the gate at the end of the game,” Fuller said.
The Ferns have one night of recovery in Cape Town before they play Jamaica at 11am local time – 9pm this evening NZT.
When Jamaica met the Ferns at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the Sunshine Girls had a comfortable 67-51 win, and remain undefeated at the World Cup, so are likely favourites.
Taurua isn’t the type to play by equations, so expect the Ferns to come out fighting for a win.
*The Silver Ferns play Jamaica this evening, with coverage from 8.35pm on Sky Sport 1.