By Ellina Mhlanga
Zimbabwe’s bid for a semi-final berth at the ongoing 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup suffered a huge setback when they lost their first game in Group F of the Preliminaries Stage Two to New Zealand at the M & S Arena in Liverpool, England, yesterday.
The match that ended 79-36 in favour of the Silver Ferns, means New Zealand have now secured four wins in four games, while debutants Zimbabwe have two wins and two losses so far.
And following their second defeat at the Netball World Cup, Gems’ coach Lloyd Makunde said they knew it was going to be a tough call against New Zealand but are optimistic of their next assignment.
This was the first meeting between the two countries and New Zealand, who came in as favourites dominated most of the game as the Preliminaries Stage Two of the tournament kicked-off yesterday.
Zimbabwe pulled through to Group F of the Preliminaries Stage Two made up of top three teams from Group A and B when they came second behind Australia in Group A. Northern Ireland proceeded as the third team.
They are joined by Group B’s top three — New Zealand, Malawi and Barbados.
The teams will carry through their results from the Preliminaries Stage One, which means they will only play teams from the other group, which they have not played before.
The top two teams will progress to the semi-finals where they will battle top two teams from Group G.
Despite a promising start in the first 10 minutes of the first quarter, with the Gems matching their counterparts, New Zealand proved to be the better side as they went on take the lead when the teams were tied at 8-8 to end the opening quarter 21-10 up.
New Zealand came back more settled in the second quarter and took control of the proceedings to go into half-time leading 40-18.
Zimbabwe struggled to create more scoring chances despite goal shooter Pauline Jani completing the half with a 100 percent conversion rate. She was replaced by Joice Takaidza in the third quarter.
For yesterday’s game, Gems coach Makunde made four changes to the starting seven going with Jani and goal attack Sharon Bwanali in the first two quarters before he brought in Takaidza and Ursula Ndlovu.
It was the same scenario in defence where the pair of Adelaide Muskwe and Sharleen Makusha started ahead of Rudo Karume and Felistus Kwangwa.
Makunde said they took the opportunity to use yesterday’s game to try some new combinations.
“We are trying a new combination. We knew that we were going to lose this game so we had to try some new combinations so that everyone gets the exposure needed at international level. As much as we are learning, I think the girls were okay,” said Makunde.
From yesterday’s game, it appears fatigue is also starting to creep in and the Gems struggled to contain New Zealand on the attack with Te Paea Selby and Ameliaranne Ekenasio completing the match with 100 percent and 83 percent conversion rate respectively.
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua said her charges were able to absorb the pressure in the early stages of the match, which paid off.
“We got to give credit where credit is due and I was really happy. I thought we absorbed the pressure especially in the first 10 minutes of the first quarter. They came out really well so I am really pleased for them,” said Taurua.
The victory for New Zealand takes them to eight points as they look to secure their place in the top two of Group F and advance to the semi-finals. Zimbabwe will be determined to get back to winning ways when they take on Barbados in their next game tonight.
And the Gems coach Makunde said they will play their best today as they need to win the encounter to ensure they remain on course to meet their top eight finish target.
“I will say we will go back, we will play the best possible team tomorrow so that we come out with a victory against Barbados. We definitely need that win. At least we played New Zealand, which is a far much better side than us. So against Barbados we will play better than we did today,” said Makunde.
Zimbabwe’s goal shooter Jani said: “It was a nice experience to play against New Zealand. We learned a lot, because these girls are good. We are ranked 13 in the world, so we learned a lot from New Zealand.”
Group G is made up of Jamaica, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, England, Uganda and Scotland, who were the top three teams in Group C and D.
Zimbabwe: Pauline Jani, Sharon Bwanali, Perpetua Siyachitema, Patricia Mauladi, Claris Kwaramba, Adelaide Muskwe, Sharleen Makusha
Subs: Rudo Karume, Felistua Kwangwa, Ndaizivei Madzikangava, Ursula Ndlovu, Joice Takaidza.
New Zealand: Maria Folau, Ameliaranne, Ekenasio, Gina Crampton, Laura Langman, Katrina Rore, Phoenix Karaka, Jo Weston.
Subs: Karin Burger, Casey Kopua, Bailey Mes, Shannon Saunders, Te Paea Selby-Rickit. The Herald