The Silver Ferns have been thrashed by the Australian Diamonds in their Quad Series opener in London.
In a tournament which is the final chance of preparation for the sides ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua is keen to balance game-time for all 14 of her players but will also be wary of results and the confidence it could build or shatter.
Having beaten the Aussies 3-1 in claiming the Constellation Cup in Christchurch last March, the world champion Ferns will now have ground to make up, following a largely clunky display at the Copper Box.
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New Zealand won the final quarter 10-6, but by then it had become a rather scrappy affair, and the damage was done in the first and third periods, where the Aussies – led by superb shooting displays from Gretel Bueta (31/33) and Steph Wood (19/22) took them by seven and nine goals respectively.
Maia Wilson shot 24/26 for the Ferns, but struggled for support, as Tiana Metuarau (12/18) endured an unhappy 21st birthday and Grace Nweke (3/5) also found the going tough at the top level.
Taurua left out her uncapped duo of Filda Vui and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan from the match-day 12, and went with what looked her strongest lineup, as Kayla Johnson was handed a start at wing defence in her first test in four years.
But the writing was on the wall early, as the Ferns fell behind 6-1, with Metuarau coming up well short with her second attempt, and the Aussies punishing with a four-goal run.
Unable to find the same penetration through court as their opponents, the Ferns had themselves under more pressure when captain Gina Crampton threw a stray long ball and the Diamonds stretched their advantage to seven.
They maintained that lead at quarter-time (17-10) after Steph Wood nailed from distance on the buzzer, in a quarter where her and Gretel Bueta went at 100 per cent.
The Ferns then did not get the start to the second quarter they were looking for, with Metuarau unable to convert the first opportunity, as Courtney Bruce smartly swatted the ball away, and the Diamonds duly netted twice, before a good win under the hoop from Karin Burger allowed them to claw three goals back at 19-13.
Five minutes into the quarter, after shooting 7/11, Metuarau was subbed, with Grace Nweke on at goal shoot (Maia Wilson shifting to goal attack), and the towering 19-year-old quickly found her target, twice.
But the frustration kept mounting for the Ferns. After a breaking call, the Aussies extended the lead to double digits, then Cullen made way for Claire Kersten on the back of being warned by umpire Gary Burgess for physicality.
Nweke was harsly caught for contact off the ball, Burger left the court with a bleeding finger, which forced a change in dress for Wood, before Nweke then missed a penalty shot after the siren to leave the Ferns down 30-21 at halftime.
Taurua made a double change at the long break, bringing Shannon Saunders on at wing attack for Crampton and Kelly Jury at goal keep for Sulu Fitzpatrick, to partner Johnson, who spent the majority of the game at goal defence.
But while Jury at least had a couple of bright moments, the Ferns’ hopes were quickly blown away after conceding the first seven goals of the quarter.
Having already netted twice, the Diamonds doubled up to lead by a dozen after Nweke was done for contact, then when both Nweke and Wilson missed their first shots and Bueta was at her best in sinking while falling over the baseline, in the blink of an eye it was 37-21 and the game was done.
Metuarau re-entered the fray for Nweke five minutes into the quarter, but had little to work with, netting just once in the third period the Ferns lost 17-8.
Taurua went on to use all 12 players when introducing Phoenix Karaka inside the final five minutes, who also showed some good moments in her brief cameo.
In the earlier game, England, the reigning Commonwealth Games champions, hammered South Africa 71-47.
The Ferns’ next game is against the hosts on Monday, 5.15am (NZ time). After a rest day they face the Proteas on Wednesday, then on Thursday it’s either a final or a third/fourth playoff.
AT A GLANCE
Australian Diamonds 53 (17-13-17-6)
Silver Ferns 39 (10-11-8-10)