The Samsung Australian Diamonds have shaken off a sluggish start to take a 62 to 45 goal win in game one of the Northern Quad Series against South Africa in Liverpool.
With captain Caitlin Bassett out with a fractured arm and the Netball World Cup just months away, head coach Lisa Alexander mixed things up throughout the game in search for that perfect starting seven.
“We really needed to mix things up and try some different combinations,” Alexander said after the game. “Caitlin Thwaites gives us a big target to work with at goal shooter whereas Steph is more mobile. Kelsey, Kate and Jamie-Lee give us a lot of speed through the wings and Gabi and Lizzy have that hard-edge to their play.”
The Diamonds looked rattled at times during the first quarter, as the rugged defence and sharp passing of the South African’s bogged down the normally razor-sharp Australian attack.
Led by goal shooter Lenize Potgieter, the SPAR Proteas burst out of the gates, shooting a perfect 100% in the first quarter and stunning the world number one Diamonds who trailed by five at the first break.
But, thanks to some clutch shooting from Caitlin Thwaites and some dynamic play through the middle, the Diamonds settled in to that familiar groove in the second quarter, storming back from five goals down to take a two-goal lead into the half-time break.
Coach Alexander made three big changes to start the second half, moving Liz Watson from wing attack to centre, bringing the speedy Kelsey Browne on at wing attack and swapping the size and strength of Thwaites for the speed of Steph Wood.
With Jo Weston at goal defence, Courtney Bruce at goal keeper and young gun Jamie-Lee Price at wing defence, this defensive combination took a stranglehold on the game. The Diamonds scored 16 goals during the third quarter and stretched their lead to five at the final break.
The class and skill of the Diamonds really shone through in the final quarter, scoring 19 goals to 7 on the way to securing the 17-goal win.
“We certainly got off to a really poor start. We took ages to adjust to the umpiring and I thought our energy was a little lack lustre,” Alexander admitted. “We’re going to have to really work on that. We can’t afford to have a start like that against the Kiwis or Roses.”
Gretel Tippett was the stand-out performer for the Diamonds, finishing the game with 30 goals from 32 attempts (accuracy of 94%) and thrilling the Liverpool crowd with her effortless athleticism and patented lay-up technique.
“Grets is doing her thing and we have our heart in our mouth most of the time on the bench but she just gets better and better and does the most unusual things that are hard to match up on so I’m pleased with that,” Alexander said.
“She’s feeling more and more confident as we go on and I think the players around her are giving her the confidence to play her game.”
Young-gun Jamie-Lee Price also impressed after being brought on in the second quarter to replace Gabi Simpson at the wing defence position, shutting down the South African midcourt and providing excellent service exploding out of defence.
“I’m really happy with Jamie-Lee, I’m smiling from ear-to-ear in fact,” Alexander said. “She did a great job at shutting the game down and getting the structure right at the centre pass – her and Kate Moloney did a great job of that in the second quarter.”
The Diamonds will now have a week to prepare for back-to-back games against New Zealand and England next Saturday and Sunday in London (details below).
All match statistics can be accessed here.
SAMSUNG AUSTRALIAN DIAMONDS SQUAD
Shooters – Caitlin Thwaites, Steph Wood, Gretel Tippett, Kiera Austin
Mid-courters – Liz Watson, Kelsey Browne, Gabi Simpson, Jamie-Lee Price, Kate Moloney
Defenders – Courtney Bruce, Jo Weston, Emily Mannix, April Brandley
Click here for further information on these athletes
The Samsung Diamonds remaining Quad Series matches:
2019 Quad Series – Test Two
Samsung Diamonds v New Zealand Silver Ferns
Copper Box Arena, London
Saturday 19 January
4.30pm GMT centre pass
Broadcast time: Sunday 20 January 3.30am AEDT
2019 Quad Series – Test Three
England Roses v Samsung Diamonds
Copper Box Arena, London
Sunday 20 January
6pm GMT centre pass
Broadcast time: Monday 21 January 5am AEDT