It was a night that ended in heart ache and shattered dreams for the Silver Ferns, who were pushed to extra time by Finalist opponent and arch rival, Australia, in the Mission Foods World Netball Championships 2011 Singapore. The crowd was fierce; cheering, stamping, chanting, creating as much support as possible for the Finalist teams.
The first half of the game saw New Zealand dominate; they owned both possession and the score sheet. With a six goal deficit after thirty minutes, the Australian Diamonds needed to change tact and fast if they were going to defend the title they won four years ago in New Zealand. Tactical genius, Norma Plummer, made the required changes at the break and that was all the Australian team needed to reel the Silver Ferns back in.
Possession was key in this tense Grand Final; from the first whistle it was evident that both teams were not giving up the accolade without a fight. Confident, agile and attacking, the fourteen players that graced the court were sensational. The game was either team's to be won. Australian Wing Defence, Mo'onia Gerrard, was creating havoc around the circle edge for New Zealand, never easing to allow the opposition in. Elsewhere on the court, Irene Van Dyk's experience was evident. Playing her 126th game for New Zealand she held her space magnificently and shot under intense pressure. Her team had their chances during regulation time but couldn't shake the Australians off, and after sixty minutes the teams had locked up at 46 goals apiece.
At extra time, 23-year old Australian Goal Shooter, Caitlin Bassett, joined forces with Goal Attack and Player of the Match, Natalie Medhurst, to produce another lethal combination. Their movement in the circle was phenomenal, their shooting precise. After fourteen nerve-wracking minutes and numerous missed opportunities to take the lead by both sides, the Australian attack knew they had to increase the pressure. Flying around the edge of the circle the ball eventually found its way to Natalie Medhurst, who managed to accurately position the ball to score the winning shot in the very last few seconds. The Australian fans broke in to an almighty cheer as the Diamonds won the title and made their country proud.
Australian Captain, Natalie Von Bertouch, said, "To look back at the Commonwealth Games and to lose that in such dramatic circumstances, was absolutely heartbreaking. We didn't shy away from that and and addressed things that we did in those games to help us step across the line in this one. We made all those minutes count and tried to reduce all those silly little errors that we made in the Commonwealth Games and it certainly paid off."
The Australians were crowned Champions and walked off with the gold medal but elsewhere in the competition, England claimed the bronze medal back from Jamaica for the first time since 1999 as they confidently dealt to the strong-willed sunshine girls in the third and fourth place Play Offs this afternoon.
A strong opening quarter from England set them in good stead for the highly contested match as they continued to push forward and extend their lead until the final whistle.
Controlled, quick and intelligent on attack, the midcourt combination of Tamsin Greenway, Karen Atkinson and Jade Clarke fed holding shooter Jo Harten with precise accuracy. Harten returned the favour by shooting 51 from 61 at 84%. Elsewhere in defence, Geva Mentor rose to the challenge of marking both Romelda Aiken and Jhaniele Fowler, getting up to every ball and ruining Jamaica's long, high ball game plan. England won all three quarter, storming ahead to claim a well-deserved win.
England Captain, Karen Atkinson, said, "We really wanted to prove that we're better than playing for the third and fourth place position, and we did that in the last three quarters. We started to take the lead out but we're disappointed that we didn't get to play off for the Gold, as we felt that we played some good Netball these championships but yesterday just wasn't good enough."
For Jamaica it was a sad end to their journey as they started the tournament in fine form. Althea Byfield, who played two quarters for Jamaica pulled off some spectacular intercepts, but at times left her player open as she went for the hunt and her effort alone wasn't enough to claim the third spot.
The Championships has seen some some magnificent displays of athleticism and courage amongst the players. South Africa must not go home without a special mention as one of the most improved team's of the tournament. Despite walking away without a medal, they surpassed Malawi on court this morning to take the fifth spot and Centre, Erin Burger, was named Player of the Championship, proving they are definitely a team to fear come Sydney 2015.