Australia claim netball’s Constellation Cup despite back-to-back defeats to New Zealand

Australia clinched the Constellation Cup but had to settle for a series victory on goal aggregate after fading to a 53-50 loss to New Zealand in the fourth and final netball Test.

The Diamonds led from the opening whistle in Auckland on Monday until midway through the final quarter when the Silver Ferns hit the front and hung on for a rousing win.

The scores were locked at 50-50 in the dying minutes before a goal by Kiwi skipper Ameliaanne Ekenasio put her team ahead. An Australian fumble in the goal circle saw the ball turned over and the home side pounced to secure victory and level the series 2-2.

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Despite the series draw, the Diamonds took a formidable 16-goal differential heading into the final Test and held on to the prized trans-Tasman trophy. It can sit alongside the World Cup, won in South Africa in August.

While they can treasure retaining the trophy, the Australians were disappointed to let the match slip away which continues their poor record in New Zealand, winning just two from their last 10 played there.

“It’s been a pretty special year for us, obviously very exciting but, we’re obviously disappointed with our last two games,” said Diamonds skipper Liz Watson. “We’re extremely proud that we are able to keep this Cup – it’s something that we’ve worked really hard for.”

The Diamonds’ lead was out to five goals early in the opening quarter with turnovers costly for the Silver Ferns, before they rallied to trail 15-12 at the first break.

Sophie Garbin, who was key to Australia’s victory in the World Cup final against England, kept the scoreboard ticking over. The 26-year-old only missed one goal in the first half as the visitors maintained their dominance to lead New Zealand 28-26 at half-time. She finished the match with 37 goals from 40 attempts.

The Diamonds increased the margin by one goal after three quarters, with New Zealand continuing to make changes through the midcourt to match the Australian might of Liz Watson and Jamie-Lee Price.

But as in game three, the Kiwis came home hard and with five gains they hit the lead 46-45 with just over eight minutes left in the final period. Scores were level at 50-50 with just over one minute to play but Ekenasio and sharp-shooter Grace Nweke had the final say.

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Nweke finished with 43 goals from 45 attempts, while Ekenasio was perfect shooting 10 from 10 with the team converting at a staggering 96%.

“I’m really proud of the girls … they’ve shown so much growth so really proud of the way we were able to finish off,” Ekenasio said. “Even though we feel like we finished that match on a high we don’t come away with the Cup, but I’m super proud.”

The Diamonds will jump on a plane for Cairns, opening a three-Test series against South Africa on Wednesday night, with two further games in Tasmania. Shooter Donnell Wallam, wing defence Amy Parmenter and young goal defender Matilda Garrett will join the squad.