The Silver Ferns posted their first win of the Vitality Netball Nations Cup with a determined and disciplined 65-60 outcome over an ever-improving Uganda in London.
Pushed all the way by Uganda, both teams produced an exciting and open attacking spectacle, the Silver Ferns producing a strong second half to outpace the She Cranes by seven goals after trailing by two at halftime.
The accuracy of both attacking units was a feature with turnover opportunities few and far between, the Silver Ferns shooting combination beginning to grow in stature with Grace Nweke near flawless in converting 53 from 54 and newcomer Georgia Heffernan impressing with her timing and range of shot.
Uganda made multiple changes in attempting to break the impasse while the Silver Ferns kept a relatively consistent line-up throughout with just one change of personnel and one positional change.
“We knew that they were going to be a tough team to come up against and we needed to be on our game,” says Silver Ferns defender Karin Burger.
“We were prepared physically to grind out the match but a lot of the time it’s the mental stuff and we wanted to fix yesterday’s errors (against Australia) and make sure every pass was played for what it is and that every pass is crucial.
“We made some growth but I think there’s a little bit more growth to happen going into our game against England. We’ve had a lot of young players coming into this group but everyone deserves to be here and it’s going to take a bit of time to gel and get those connections 100 per cent and it’s exciting to see what the future of our netball looks like.’’
The Silver Ferns shuffled their pack in the midcourt for the clash against Uganda which was highlighted by the return of wing defence Michaela Sokolich-Beatson to international play for the first time in five years following two ruptured Achilles tendon injuries.
Midcourter and on-court captain Kate Heffernan got the start at wing defence with her twin sister Georgia, following up her first-round international debut, with a second successive start and Whitney Souness lining up at wing attack.
Playing for the first time in a series against the world’s top-three nations after a historic fifth place finish at the World Cup, Uganda were spearheaded by prolific shooter Mary Cholhok.
Up against a completely different style in Uganda, who are happy to maintain possession through multiple phases while awaiting the openings, the Silver Ferns made a snappy start with their accurate and pacey transition play.
Georgia Heffernan played a strong hand as a distributor into strike shooter Nweke in helping the Silver Ferns build an early buffer. After finding their feet, Uganda surged back strongly to leave the scores all tied up at 15-apiece after a high-scoring first stanza.
Reshuffling their defensive end and double-marking Nweke, Uganda made the best of starts on the resumption. Pouncing on anything loose from the Silver Ferns, Uganda were quick to punish with the shooting combination of Cholhok and captain Irene Eyaru showing a slick rapport.
Forging a five-goal buffer, Uganda kept the Silver Ferns at arm’s length as both teams settled into an impressive attacking product with few turnover opportunities on offer.
A couple of rare lapses by their opposites handed the Silver Ferns a late push as they narrowed Uganda’s lead to 31-29 at the main break, Nweke completing a clean sheet with 24 goals from as many attempts.
Maddy Gordon was injected into centre while Kate Heffernan moved to wing defence for the second half as the Silver Ferns squeezed hard defensively to grab elusive turnovers in their most productive stanza of the match to that point.
Grabbing the lead back midway through the quarter, the Silver Ferns required plenty of discipline as the tight tussle continued. Uganda were unable to stem the long bomb into Nweke’s hands but remained a threat through their patience and ability to retain possession.
With both sides impressing through their attacking accuracy, an exciting finish was in store when the Silver Ferns held a narrow 46-44 lead at the last break.
The Silver Ferns will meet England in their final round robin match of the series at 6am on Sunday 28 January (NZ time).
Official Result and Stats:
Silver Ferns: 65
Shooting Stats – Silver Ferns:
Grace Nweke 53/54 (98%)
Georgia Heffernan 12/13 (92%)
Shooting Stats – Uganda:
Mary Cholhok 45/49 (92%)
Irene Eyaru 11/11 (100%)
Shadiah Nassanga 4/5 (80%)