New Zealand beats Australia 54-53 in Test three of the Constellation Cup to lead series 2-1
New Zealand has snatched a dramatic one-goal victory over Australia in the third Test of the Constellation Cup in Sydney to take a 2-1 series lead over the Diamonds.
In a classic encounter, that saw a series of momentum switches for both sides, the Silver Ferns guaranteed themselves at least a share of the series spoils with one game to come in Perth next Sunday.
The Australians — who had beaten New Zealand 48-42 on the road in Auckland in game two — jumped out to an early six-goal lead, thanks to strong shooting from Gretel Tippett and Caitlin Bassett.
The Diamonds produced immense pressure in defence and attack, while the Silver Ferns struggled to make inroads.
The visitors made heavy work of many of their attacking moves, relying on the shooting of Maria Folau to keep them in the game.
However, New Zealand steadied and closed to three goals at quarter-time, down 16-13.
Australia started strongly in the second quarter, leaping to a 19-14 lead, and then extending to 23-17, on the back of fearless fast passing and instinctive attacking.
But the Silver Ferns found their feet again and with Folau proving a brilliant shooter under the pressure NZ clawed it back again with a run of five out of six goals scored to close to 23-22.
The momentum swung again, with Australia pushing the lead out, even after coach Lisa Alexander switched Tippett (13 goals from 13 attempts) for Tegan Philip in attack.
They led by as much as 29-23 before NZ steadied. The last shot of the half went to Bassett, who scored to make it 30-26 at the break.
The Silver Ferns came out firing in the second half, putting on eight goals to one to charge into a 34-31 lead.
But the arrival of Caitlin Thwaites steadied Australia in attack. The Diamonds levelled at 34-34, then the teams went goal for goal as the match turned into a traditional Australia-New Zealand contest.
The Sydney crowd was roaring as Folau and Thwaites kept the scoring coming at either end.
New Zealand looked set to go ahead at three-quarter-time, but a turnover with less than 20 seconds left gave Australia one last chance.
A foul on Thwaites gave her a shot after the siren, and she scored to give the Diamonds a bare 43-42 lead at the final change.
New Zealand quickly regained the lead in the final term before the Diamonds levelled.
Some confident passing from NZ then got the visitors out to a three-goal lead, but Australia answered again to level at 48-48.
Philip put the Diamonds ahead 51-50 with six minutes left, and Thwaites backed up to give Australia a two-goal cushion.
But Ameliaranne Ekenasio answered with a goal, and then when Philip missed, the ball came back to Ekenasio to make it 52-52.
The pressure mounted, with errors at either end — it was still level with 1:20 left before Ekenasio gave NZ the lead.
A breaking penalty gave Australia a chance, and Thwaites equalised.
However Ekenasio (27 goals from 29 attempts) held her nerve to score from distance with less than 20 seconds to go, and as Australia chased the equaliser they turned it over, with the Silver Ferns winning by a solitary goal.
For Australia, Bassett top-scored with 19 goals from 21 attempts, Tippett was a perfect 13 from 13, while Thwaites finished with 16 goals from 17 attempts.
“To be honest we shouldn’t be getting ourselves into those [close finish] positions,” Thwaites said.
“Even early on we had the opportunity to go up by a hell of a lot more than that [six goals].
“New Zealand are really incredible at … the moments of the game where we’re kind of wrestling it.
“So we need to be able to execute in those times.”
Player of the match Laura Langman was the orchestrator for New Zealand, and her three intercepts in the final quarter helped her side to the win.
Folau finished with 27 goals from 31 shots plus five goal assists.
“[It feels] bloody great,” she told Channel Nine. “We knew that the Diamonds were going to come out firing.
“It was just tit for tat for most of the second half. [I’m] really proud of the effort of the girls but we have one more game going to Perth and we will see how we go.”