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Aotearoa Men showcase skills for victory over Silver Ferns

Aotearoa Men held off a fast-finishing Silver Ferns unit to clinch a deserved victory in the third match of the Cadbury Netball Series, winning 57-53.

The Ferns had already wrapped up the three-match series at TSB Arena in Wellington, but Tuesday night’s game was anything but a dead rubber for the men who built on their performances throughout the week, culminating in an all-round effort across the court.

In what could possibly be the Silver Ferns last outing before next year’s Commonwealth Games in July, coach Dame Noeline Taurua will be left more questions with her side lacking the spark they produced in the first two matches.

It took a fast finish from the Ferns to rein in Aotearoa Men who had opened a 15-goal advantage in the fourth quarter before seeing the healthy lead slashed to four goals by the finial whistles.

The series sewn up, Taurua made some changes to her starting line with Maia Wilson returning to the goal shooting role where she teamed up with Tiana Metuarau while Kate Heffernan was given her first start in the black dress at wing defence.

The men arrived with plenty of speed on attack, letting the ball go early into the circle as they raced out to a 6-2 lead – reminiscent of the intensity they brought to their first quarter performance in the opening match of the series.

A couple of long balls over the baseline however gave the Ferns the chance to claw their way back into the spell and the women closed the gap to two goals before the men surged again to lead 17-14 at the first break. The high tempo of the match spilled over into the second stanza as the two sides traded blows on the scoreboard, neither team able to build on a lead.

Having played all quarters in the first two matches, the defensive combination of Kelly Jury and Karin Burger again had their work cut out for them against a men’s unit which spilled up little ball.

The combined unit work on attack was another area of improvement for Aotearoa Men with Nick Grimmer, Eriata Vercoe and Ben Smith, given his first run in the series at goal attack, treasuring ball and finding Jay Geldard in the shooting circle.

The more mobile shooting duo of Wilson and Metuarau worked well together for the Ferns, opening up space when needed, but the attacking wobbles struck in the last five minutes of the half as the men’s defensive duo of Victor Godsmark-White and Michael Clarke applied the blowtorch, keeping their opponents scoreless for six minutes.

Trailing 27-31 at halftime, Taurua turned to her bench with Grace Nweke coming on for Wilson while Claire Kersten, who replaced Heffernan on the wing late in the second quarter, retained her place in the defensive unit.

But it was the men who started the third spell strongly, opening their lead to seven goals and showcasing their skills and patience in all areas of the court.

More changes for the Ferns came mid-way through the third quarter with Kersten moving to centre, Heffernan returning to the wing and Shannon Saunders, celebrating her 31st birthday, coming on at wing attack.

The leadership of Godsmark-White, who was called into the side as cover for the Auckland-based players, was telling for the men, getting his hand to plenty of ball and directing play on defence.

Another decisive spell in the third quarter saw the men consolidate their advantage to open a commanding 46-38 lead with 15 minutes to play.