Commonwealth Games 2022: Sunshine Girls make it a dark day for Silver Ferns

ANALYSIS: The last time a Silver Ferns side performed this badly, the coach got the chop.

That won’t happen – and shouldn’t happen – to Dame Noeline Taurua, after New Zealand were demolished 67-51 by Jamaica in their Commonwealth Games netball semifinal on Saturday night (NZ time).

But the defeat did leave the Ferns needing a bounce-back of Dylan Schmidt proportions to avoid missing a Games medal for the second successive time.

Silver Ferns goal shoot Maia Wilson gets monstered by the Jamaican defense during their netball semifinal on day nine of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Silver Ferns goal shoot Maia Wilson gets monstered by the Jamaican defense during their netball semifinal on day nine of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Even allowing for lowered expectations of the current side, this was one of New Zealand netball’s most humbling losses. Never before have Jamaica gone to their substitute bench late in an encounter against the Silver Ferns, not to try desperately to come from behind, but instead to revel in and reward their star players’ dominant displays.

Brightest among them was Jhaniele Fowler, the double-decker bumper car goal shoot New Zealand knew all about but had as much joy stopping as King Canute did keeping his tootsies dry.

Fowler made all of her 54 shots at goal while goal attack Shanice Beckford went 10 from 10 to consign the world champions to another bronze medal match (against England at 12.30am Monday NZT).

In 2018, they lost that one to Jamaica on the Gold Coast after copping a 65-44 hiding from the hosts on the Gold Coast in the semi. The loss in Birmingham was NZ’s biggest since that shellacking, which combined with the subsequent defeat by Jamaica soon meant the end of Janine Southby’s time in charge and heralded the start of a remarkable turnaround under Taurua which culminated in the World Cup win only a year later .

The problem for Taurua and NZ was that from that Cup-winning outfit, only fringe players are in Birmingham now playing major roles and have fallen short of elite standards.

Retired are the superstar trio of Maria Folau, Casey Kopua and Laura Langman. Missing in Birmingham are Karin Burger through injury, Jane Watson after having her first child in May, Katrina Rore (her second baby is due in September) and Ameliaranne Ekenasio, who was named as a squad reserve after apparently falling short of Taurua’s strict fitness standards after the birth of her daughter.

Taurua wasn’t using the absences as an excuse.

“They’re not here because of a certain reason.

Jhaniele Fowler was the dominant figure as Jamaica consigned New Zealand to the bronze medal match.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Jhaniele Fowler was the dominant figure as Jamaica consigned New Zealand to the bronze medal match.

“We can’t bleat on about the past, we’ve really got to focus on the players that we have now and the lessons that have come out of today,” she said.

The Silver Ferns began with a starting line up of Maia Wilson (goal shoot) and Te Paea Selby-Rickit in the attacking circle, captain Gina Crampton at wing attack, center Whitney Souness, Kate Heffernan (wing defense), Phoenix Karaka (goal defense ) and Sulu Fitzpatrick (goal keep).

They made a nervous start with Wilson missing her first shot at goal from close range and soon fell four behind the Sunshine Girls, playing with confidence after their upset group win over Australia.

Jamaica ended the quarter with a huge 18-9 lead and increased that advantage in the second quarter before coach Taurua replaced Fitzpatrick with Kelly Jury to try and counter Fowler’s impact.

Kayla Johnson also came off the bench in place of Heffernan, but when Jamaica swept the length of the court to score just before the break, the game was as good as over despite some second-half impact from the introduction of Grace Newke at goal shoot.

“It’s been a recurring theme and we talk about it forever,” Taurua said of the tardy beginning.

“But it’s something that’s still eluding us.

New Zealand's Phoenix Karaka, second right, looks to the scoreboard as Jamaica takes control.

Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

New Zealand’s Phoenix Karaka, second right, looks to the scoreboard as Jamaica takes control.

“I thought it opened up quite nicely on the first center pass and we missed the shot and then we did an offside. Those two things actually equated to four goals and all of a sudden we’re on the back foot.”

Taurua explained her reasons for not starting Nweke and Jury – “The idea was getting a bit of a rotating circle … The Caribbean way is definitely aerial, so we can be like a lamb to a slaughter, or we can look at a different way of presenting itself” – but it also failed to stop them being slaughtered.

Jamaica is clearly a quality side at the moment, with the impressive Shamera Sterling anchoring their defence, and have benefited from six players plying their trade across the Tasman.

But there aren’t enough strong characters in this side. Players were often dumped on their backsides, and Taurua acknowledged the “gulf in individuals” which needs closing quickly before next year’s World Cup defense.

To get bronze against hosts and defending champions England – beaten 60-51 by Australia – will require them to lift more than David Liti.

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