Australian netball coach LIsa Alexander says her team is comprised of fighters who have all the ability they need to win the nation’s 12th World Cup.
The Diamonds made the final against New Zealand with a battling 55-53 win against South Africa in Saturday night’s semi-final in Liverpool.
The Proteas tested Australia with a strong defensive effort and with only three minutes to play were down by only two goals (51-49) and heading into attack when an intercept ball gave Australia some breathing space.
After the scare, Alexander praised her team’s ability to hang tough in tight contests, having also beaten NZ by a mere point in Friday’s final pool game.
“They are a bunch of fighters … I think they played smart when we needed it and that’s what we have to do in pressure games,” Alexander told Channel NineGO.
Alexander made five changes to the side that edged out the Silver Ferns, with skipper Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood dropped to the bench as Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett filled the goal-shooter and goal-attack roles.
The coach maintained she would continue a horses-for-course policy going into the final.
“We are a team of 12 truly and there were a couple who didn’t get on today, but they were very brave at the end …
I think it is important to tell everyone that those players were our starting seven and we chose them to play South Africa and do it well.
“To be able to bring such quality players back on court when it was needed was fantastic.”
Midcourter Liz Watson was best on court saying she was thrilled to be playing in the final.
“That is amazing. It definitely wasn’t pretty but a win is a win and we go again,” she said. “I guess we had a good hit out at New Zealand and we can withstand that pressure.”
Australia maintained a 98-to-93 shooting percentage for the game, making the most of their opportunities when the stretched Proteas’ defence was under pressure.
Norma Plummer-coached South Africa had started the game strongly, scoring within the first 20 seconds and turning over several Australian attacks.
The Proteas were made to pay for missed chances from under the hoop by Lenize Potgieter as the Diamonds scored two quickfire goals to going into quarter time with a 14-10.
The Diamonds slowly started to exert some dominance with Tippett causing South Africa all sorts of problems in the attacking third of the court as they stretched their advantage to 31-23 at halftime.
However, Plummer’s message to her players during the interval had the desired effect as the Proteas won the third quarter to close the gap to 43-39 going into the final 15 minutes.
Once again their shooting let them down with Potgieter and Maryka Holtzhausen spurning opportunities as the Diamonds defence tried to hold firm.
Alexander replaced the impressive Tippett, who was flawless from 23 attempts, with Steph Wood as South Africa, galvanised by their strong third quarter closed the gap to one goal with 10 minutes remaining
However, the vastly experienced Thwaites held her nerve to score a crucial goal to restore the three-point gap after a crucial intercept from defender Watson.
But South Africa continued to fight back and a Potgieter goal reduced the deficit to a single goal but the Diamonds, led superbly by Thwaites (30/30) closed out a tense encounter.
“It was really tough we felt momentum swings switching but we managed to find another level,” Thwaites said.
“I feel like it was good, but we have so much to improve on.”
Meanwhile New Zealand crushed hosts England’s hopes to claim a 47-45 victory and book a spot in the final.
Commonwealth champions England began badly, going 5-0 down, and despite deafening home support helping them into a narrow halfway lead, the Silver Ferns were more clinical.
“I can’t put into words what just happened,” New Zealand attacker Maria Folau, a constant thorn in England’s side, said.
“The discipline was there and it was all about keeping to our structure and processes. When players needed to stand up, all seven stood up. We didn’t get caught chasing.”