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Silver Ferns have hand on Cup after away win

Published: 6:01PM Sunday September 16, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

The Silver Ferns took a huge confidence boost from the opening clash of their Constellation Cup series against Australia, emerging 54-52 winners at Melbourne's Hisense Arena.

Playing their only away game of the series and without injured captain Casey Williams, the New Zealand women captured the initiative just before halftime and took a two-goal lead (26-24) into the break.

They built on that lead throughout the third quarter and in a contest marred by early-season mistakes, they withstood several comeback attempts from the world champions. That advantage reached six goals early in the final period, but shrank to two as the pressure came on in the dying moments.

So often, NZ teams have wilted in these circumstances, but this time, the Ferns showed superb composure, personified by goal attack Maria Tutaia. Voted Most Valuable Player for the game, she missed early shots, but went 23/24 through the final three quarters, mostly from mid-to-long distance.

Shooting partner Irene van Dyk was also near faultless - her only miss came near the end of the third period, but she rebounded to score anyway.

Williams' absence was a pre-game surprise, but coach Wai Taumaunu took a chance to rest her kingpin for a contest that was possibly not a must-win anyway, given that New Zealand will host the deciding two games of the series.

"We'd been monitoring Casey, along with a couple of others, but realised this morning when she hadn't fronted up after training as well as we would like," said Taumaunu.

"It's the beginning of a pretty busy international programme for us, so we took a conservative approach with her. That's disappointing, but we've got a lot of faith and a bit of depth in that area, so we're a bit fortunate at the moment."

The Diamonds spoke about placing pressure on the Ferns midcourt, where Taumaunu was still searching for a successor to Temepara George, who retired after last year's world championships. Wellingtonian Milly Lees got the start at wing attack with acting captain Laura Langman and Anna Harrison - a surprise at wing defence - as her running mates.

"I think that's a good start for Camilla Lees," said Taumaunu. "I thought Laura really stepped up and helped her out, and we put the experienced Anna Scarlett [Harrison] in the back to shore that up as well.

"Milly did some good feeds - it's hard work against Mo'onia Gerrard and I thought she coped pretty well with that."

De Bruin and Grant never allowed the Australian shooters to settle and, eventually both starters - Cath Cox and Nat Medhurst - were replaced. Meanwhile, Taumaunu stuck with her starters throughout and they did the job for her.

Now, the Kiwis head to Auckalnd's Vector Arena for Game Two, with the prospect of winning the Constellation Cup for the first time.

"We want to be confident in any game we play," said Tutaia. "For us, it's a matter of making sure we score off our centre passes and any turnovers we get."

It sounds simple.

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