Fast Ferns crowned inaugural Fast5 champions

Yahoo! New Zealand Sport November 11, 2012, 8:44 pm

The Fast Ferns have been crowned the Fast5 world champions, after winning a thrilling battle of wills with the England Fives, 23-21, in Auckland tonight.

It was a victory for both the hometown team and the Fast5 concept, trialled for the first time this weekend to rave reviews from players and costume-clad spectators alike.

The New Zealanders, led by Laura Langman, went through the tournament unbeaten, but were pushed to the absolute limits by the strong English side at the final hurdle.

Ferns shooter Maria Tutaia, who was named player of the series, said the final had been a "great spectacle" from both teams. "We are performers - we like to keep you guys on the edge of your seats," she said.

"England are no easy beats, they've been performing consistently well throughout the tournament, so I am really proud that we won."

Tutaia paid credit to fellow shooter Anna Thompson for stepping up in the critical final match, and when the English curbed the Ferns' shooting opportunities, the New Zealanders' defensive game came to the fore.

"I love the Fast5 game, I love this new concept," Tutaia said. "This is history, it's the beginning of a new era. I just hope more people come and support the sport and what we are trying to do at next year's tournament."

English captain Jo Harten - while disappointed with the outcome and ruing a missed three pointer in the crucial final stages of the game - was also thrilled with the Fast5 concept.

"There were people who were skeptical about it before it began but it was fantastic. It's been a great way to finish a long season," she said.

All through the tournament, the Fast Ferns have worked on whacky entrances, and tonight they topped them all - dressed in pink bandannas, they took to the court dancing Gangnam Style to the delight of the crowd.

But when it got down to serious business on the court, the England Fives took the lead, opening the scoring and keeping an arm's length in front - a Rachel Dunn supershot in the last three seconds of the quarter putting England up 9-6.

England used their power play in the second quarter, but weren't allowed a lot of room to move through a cloying Ferns defence. With both teams on equal footing, a Harrison hoist blocking a shot was ruled illegal, and the resulting penalty shot outside the circle by Jo Harten notched up a much needed six points for the England Fives.

Heading into the second half with a 19-14 advantage, the English effectively employed heavy defensive tactics to contain the Ferns in their power play. They kept the ball for long periods of play, passing it backwards to their defenders to stop New Zealand scoring. The home side could only add six points, setting up a thrilling final stanza with only one point separating the sides.

Then contrary to everything that Fast5 netball is all about, the last quarter was a low-scoring battle of attrition - which the Fast Ferns won. Only three goals were scored in that last embattled quarter - all of them one point goals scored by New Zealand.