Australian Diamonds suffer from gut wrenching loss: Former captain
Australian netballers Jo Weston, left, and Kelsey Browne couldnt hide their disappointment after a one-point Netball World Cup final defeat to New Zealand in Liverpool.
OPINION: Gut wrenching. Heart breaking. But in the cold light of day, not surprising.
The Diamonds loss in the gold medal match at the Netball World Cup was hard to watch. Its the second major final this team has lost in as many years, finishing as runners up yet again, this time to New Zealand after going down, also by a solitary goal, to England in last years Commonwealth Games final.
Yet it was also hard to not be caught up in the emotion and excitement of the Silver Ferns 52-51 win, as they transformed from a directionless rabble at last years Commonwealth Games to world champions. By the time the final rolled around there was a sense of inevitability about their march to the gold medal.
They didnt get it all their own way. It was an epic battle that went down to the wire. The Diamonds put up a brave fight but in the end they couldnt match the on and off court leadership of the Silver Ferns.
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Off court it was a battle of two vastly experienced coaches in the Diamonds Lisa Alexander and the Silver Ferns Noeline Taurua. They had already locked horns earlier in the tournament, and while Alexander came out on top on that occasion, you get the sense that Taurua was prepared to lose that battle to win the war.
In the preliminary round match between the two countries Taurua made numerous changes all over the court. It gave her the opportunity to test combinations, to see who stood up and to get an insight into who would do the job.
Alexander on the other hand chose to run largely the same line-up for that match, with a single change in the mid court. Which meant that when Gretel Tippett, Sarah Klau and April Brandley were subbed on to pull Australia out of a hole in the second half of the final it was a huge ask, as none of them had seen action against the Kiwis earlier in the tournament.
In the end Tauruas approach proved a master stroke. The Silver Ferns did not make a single change during the final, with the team that was chosen digging itself out of numerous holes throughout the match.
Which brings me to the leadership on the court. The Silver Ferns built their line-up around three highly experienced players who formed the spine of the group. Player of the final Casey Kopua, captain Laura Langman and the unflappable Maria Folau formed the bedrock on which the win was built. All three threatened to be the best players never to win a World Cup, with their preponderance of test caps delivering Commonwealth Games but never World Cup gold.
All that has changed now, and the emotion on their faces during the post-match presentation belies the rough nature of the journey that has brought them to this point in their careers. Every time the game was in the balance in the final, one of them stepped up. You knew it was coming but you also knew there wasnt much that could be done about it. That is big-game experience, pure and simple.
Which is a lesson for the Diamonds. Losing two major finals in a row hurts, but it is also an opportunity to improve. Sometimes you need to understand losing to learn how to win. But it takes courage and commitment from an entire organisation not just those at the coal face to interrogate the process and learn from the result.
The way ahead then is clear. All aspects of the Diamonds campaign need to be examined. And it must go further than the players. There is no questioning their commitment, their passion, their pride. They did everything that was asked of them, and they are going to need plenty of support to get over this loss.
Dont get me wrong I dont necessarily believe that heads should roll or that huge changes should be made as a knee-jerk reaction. It was after all a single goal loss in the final. A silver medal in the toughest World Cup ever is no mean feat for a team that has just three players left from the 2015 triumph.
But it was also a game in which Australia won only one quarter. Tellingly Australia won just five of the twelve quarters in their final three matches. Taken on its own, the final is a close loss. Combined with that statistic and Australias loss at the Commonwealth Games last year, it is an alarming trend that must be addressed if Australia is to reassert any sort of international dominance.
So tough questions have to be asked. About on and off court leadership, about selections, about preparations, about match day decisions and player welfare. Everything must be on the table. I suspect that while the Diamonds brains trust will discover that they got most things right, getting most things right is no longer good enough. The increased standard of international netball means that to win a major tournament you have to get everything right.
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