The Australian Diamonds held off a formidable Jamaican challenge in the semifinal of the Netball World Cup in Cape Town on Saturday. That saw the 11-time champions setting up a showdown with England, who defeated defending champions New Zealand earlier in the afternoon, with the final taking place at 6pm on Sunday.
JAMAICA 54 – 57 AUSTRALIA
Jamaica and Australia produced another exhilarating showdown in the second semifinal of the day at the Netball World Cup 2023 in Cape Town.
While they put up a massive fight in a bid to reach their first ever Netball World Cup final, the Jamaicans fell just short of causing the second upset of the day after England defeated New Zealand, with the Australians prevailing 57-54.
This is the third time the Diamonds and Sunshine Girls have gone head-to-head in a final-four clash in the tournament’s history, with the Australians having clinched victory in all three of those previous matches, the most recent in 2015 when they went on to win their 11th title.
Had they succeeded in their quest on Saturday, the Jamaicans would have denied the powerhouse Australian side a place in the final of a Netball World Cup for the first time ever.
As predicted, and following the pattern of the England v New Zealand semifinal earlier in the day, the opening quarter was a tight one, the teams matching each other goal for goal as they sussed each other out to reach the first break level on 14-14.
Playing in her 100th match for Jamaica, Jhaniele Fowler was, as always, a tower of strength and calm in the circle with just one miss in the entire match. But it was goalkeeper Shamera Sterling’s extraordinary effort to win the ball off Cara Koenen at the other end that really lifted her side at a crucial moment when they were just starting to slip behind. The Sunshine Girls gained momentum and were able to score three goals on the trot to make up their deficit and level matters once again as the sides headed into halftime.
The confident-looking Diamonds upped the intensity at the start of the third quarter. They forced the Jamaicans into several errors, giving themselves the freedom to open up a five-goal lead. Several Jamaican changes included Adean Thomas coming in at centre, injecting some energy into the side.
Clearly up for the fight, the Jamaicans continued to put their bodies on the line as they battled their way back once again to equalise at 40-40. The Diamonds managed to steady themselves to turn the ball over in the final minute and make sure they reached the final break with their noses just in front, having won the quarter by two goals.
That lead didn’t last long, however, the Jamaicans immediately closing the gap and then edging ahead at the start of the final 15 minutes. Returning to their shorter, sharper game and showing more patience on the ball, the Sunshine Girls edged in front. But with Courtney Bruce in particular upping the defensive pressure, that safe, short game didn’t last.
One too many dangerous high passes into the circle saw Bruce affecting a crucial turnover with just over five minutes to play. Determined to avoid the defending champion New Zealand side’s fate, that was just the gap they needed to pull away, apply more pressure, and eventually secure a hard-fought victory.
While Australia had lost to England in their final group game during the week, this was Jamaica’s first defeat of the tournament, but it was the crunch one that brought their gold-medal quest to an end. The Sunshine Girls will now have to pick themselves up for a bronze medal playoff against New Zealand on Sunday.
Asked about bouncing back on Saturday after their loss to England, Australian coach Stacey Marinkovich said: “You don’t need to do much to motivate this group. I think they’re just absolutely professional in what they do. They knew that we didn’t play the way we would have liked against England. We needed to address that and we needed to find that next level.
“It’s been building – we’ve had bits and pieces of it through the tournament but to play Jamaica you need it for 60 minutes so I guess it was more around the commitment… it was just regrouping and getting focused on what we actually look like when we’re playing well.”
Speaking about her rivalry with West Coast Fever teammate Jhaniele Fowler in the circle on Saturday, Most Valuable Player Courtney Bruce reckoned: “When you come up against Jhaniele, you might not get every single ball but one in 10 is OK. I knew those moments would come and that would come off full-court pressure and that wasn’t going to come in the first quarter so I just went out there to try and fatigue her so in that last quarter we could get as much ball as possible.”
Putting on a brave face, a disappointed Fowler said: “The journey this far has been great. We’ve had some amazing wins but this loss definitely is devastating because we wanted to make it to the grand final, but unfortunately not.
“But kudos to my girls because they worked really hard to get here and they did fight really well in the game just then but we just fell short a little bit. It is disappointing but we put it all on court.”
Jamaica’s assistant coach Keyan Murdock added: “We were playing against a team that is really good… their defence was that good and we have to give credit to the opposition, they played really well and they forced us to do things we never wanted to do and we never got the result we wanted. We were in the game for a very long time and we have to be proud of the ladies and how they performed.”
Q2: 29-29 (15-15)
Q3: 40-42 (11-13)
Q4: 54-57 (14-15)
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Courtney Bruce(Australia)