Commonwealth Games 2014: Tearful England fall foul of All Black mentality

England lost possession in the closing stages and Maria Tutaia scored in the final second to clinch a 35-34 win

Glasgow

The king of the track was not in the house, Usain Bolt having decided to concentrate on getting ready for last night’s  4 x 100m relay final rather than take another peek at New Zealand’s netballers. Still, Prince Edward was watching from the stands, and there was television royalty too.

“This is the big one,” Clare Balding told the woman with the court-side mic during the break after the opening quarter. “There’s nothing I’d like to see more than England playing in the gold-medal match.”

The trouble was, in order to do that, England needed to get past the women in black at the semi-final stage yesterday. The New Zealand netball team might go by the name of the Silver Ferns but they are dressed all in black – and, sadly for Ms Balding and the rest of those rooting for a ground-breaking English victory, they have the same granite mentality as their male national rugby union counterparts.

This could have been the Aviva Stadium in Dublin rather than Hall Four of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, only this time the heartache inflicted by the New Zealanders was at the expense of England’s netballers rather than Ireland’s rugby players.

 

Last November the All Blacks were 22-17 down in the Irish capital with no time left on the clock when they managed to snatch a 24-22 overtime victory from the jaws of what would have been their first-ever loss to Ireland, Ryan Crotty squeezing home for a try in the left corner and Aaron Cruden landing the conversion.

Irish eyes turned from smiling to a flood of tears that might have caused the Liffey to burst. It was the same for England’s netballers on the banks of the Clyde yesterday.

They had a place in today’s gold-medal match within sight with some 15 seconds left on the clock as they stole possession and launched a counterattack. The ball came out to Kadeen Corbin, wide on the left, but England’s goal attack (like her sister and team-mate Sasha, a cousin of Asha Philip, the sprinter who finished fourth in the women’s 100m final on Monday) crucially lost possession.

New Zealand did not blow their chance. They worked the ball to Maria Tutaia, their substitute goal attack, and with two seconds remaining she dispatched her decisive shot.

There was just a second left when the ball passed through the hoop. When it bounced off the floor that was it. The final score on the board flashed up: New Zealand 35 England 34.

Instead of becoming the first side to break the Anzac stranglehold on gold and silver in Commonwealth Games netball (New Zealand and Australia have contested all four finals, the Kiwis winning the most recent two), poor Corbin and Co, who led by three goals at one stage in the final quarter, were broken women.

They left the arena in tears, just as they had done a week earlier. On that occasion the shot that consigned them to a 49-48 pool defeat against Australia had been sunk with 15 seconds left. Rather than going for gold and revenge against the Aussies today, England will be attempting to lift themselves for the bronze-medal match against Jamaica.

“Gutted is probably the word I’m going to use continuously but I am very proud,” England’s coach, Anna Mayes, said. “This is the best England side there’s ever been and we genuinely believed we could take the semi-final and be playing off for gold tomorrow. We need to turn it around and deal with the emotions that we have now, and that’s what we will be doing.

“The girls will come out all guns blazing tomorrow. I will guarantee you that.”

What can certainly be relied upon is that the Silver Ferns will bring an All Black mentality to the final against their trans-Tasman rivals, who overcame Jamaica 57-42 in the second semi-final

Asked whether she feared  New Zealand might have blown it when England attacked with the scores tied in that final minute, the Kiwis’ wing attack Liana Leota replied: “No, I never thought that. I knew we had the patience and still enough opportunity.

“We practise for situations like that in our training, so we know what the pressure is going to be like, how to absorb it and what structures to put in place. We  are prepared.”

As it happened, Leota’s husband was busy in sporting preparations of his own yesterday, getting ready for the new Aviva Premiership rugby union season.

“He’s in training in Manchester today but he’ll be here tomorrow,” she said.

Johnny Leota is a powerhouse centre with Sale Sharks, a team-mate of Danny Cipriani. Like his wife, he plays on the international sporting stage – but for the big-hitting Samoans rather than the ruthless All Blacks.

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