Australia’s netballers avenged the loss of this year’s Commonwealth Games gold medal play-off by defeating New Zealand in the final and deciding game of their three-match series in Christchurch yesterday afternoon.

The 46-40 triumph gave the Aussies their first series win over the Silver Ferns in three years, and their first in New Zealand since 2001.

It was a particularly sweet win for the Aussies, no doubt still smarting from their loss on home soil in last year’s Comm Games, but who also carried the memory of a 25-point walloping delivered by their recent nemesis in Auckland just on 12 months ago.

The result was achieved on the back of the team’s mid-court superiority, led by hard-working centre – and eventual player of the match – Natalie von Bertouch. The dual-shooting power of player of the series Sharelle McMahon and Susan Pratley was a major plus for the Aussies, their opponents largely restricted to a single avenue to goal via dead-eye sharpshooter Irene van Dyke.

Her own goal-shooting partner Maria Tutaia was cut right out of the game early on by Mo’onia Gerrard, and eventually forced her substitution. Veteran Tania Dalton, who had not played since 2003, proved little help upon her introduction early in the third quarter.

Australian coach Norma Plummer was full of praise for her young squad, saying: “They were outdone on height by the Kiwis and probably on experience, but we had the game plan.”

As can be expected with any trans-Tasman encounter, the game was characterised by a touch of niggle, with South African umpire Maggie du Plessis at times called upon to offer some stern words to both teams for some overzealous defending.

The Australians will no doubt be buoyed ahead of next July’s World Championships in Fiji knowing they can win against the best away from home.

Adding to the intrigue ahead of the world champs was Silver Ferns’ coach Adine Wilson’s suggestion that they had let the game slip, raising the eyebrows of some, including skipper Liz Ellis who said, “I thought it a was a little bit odd, because we felt that we always felt we had control of the game.”

Augurs well for another interesting tussle next year!

Peter Fray

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