By Melissa Woods and Adrian Warren
Australia’s unrelenting march towards the medal round at the Netball World Cup in Cape Town continued on Monday with the Diamonds cruising past Scotland.
After three pool game victories, including racking up 101 goals against Fiji, Australia took on Scotland in the preliminary stage two round and recorded a 76-37 win.
While it was comfortable, it was the Diamond’s lowest score of the tournament with some fatigue creeping in as Scotland restricted Australia to less than 18 goals in both of the final two quarters.
Stacey Marinkovich before her Australian side took off for the Netball World Cup.Credit: Getty Images
The Diamonds rotated their roster, giving coach Stacey Marinkovich plenty to think about with a clash with fellow big guns England looming.
It was far from a faultless display from the world No.1 side with some of the combinations failing to click.
Marinkovich started with Sophie Garbin at goal shooter and vice captain Steph Wood at goal attack and they built a 21-9 quarter-time lead.
Wood didn’t offer her usual weighty contribution, only managing two goals and a further three in the second stanza for a 43-17 half-time lead.
Goal defence Jo Weston left the court early in the second quarter after receiving a warning, which carried a threat of a suspension if she got a second.
Marinkovich rang the changes after halftime and the result was a little clunky but Scotland were also patchy and unable to mount any real fightback.
There was an injury scare for Courtney Bruce when the star defender collided with the goalpost and clutched at her hip but she managed to play out the third quarter.
Marinkovich was critical of the third-quarter effort.
“We’ve got to be better than that,” the coach told the players at three-quarter time.
“At the moment, it’s very one-dimensional.”
Garbin finished with 38 goals from 40 attempts to put her hand up for the high-stakes games to follow while fellow shooter Cara Koenen contributed 25 from 26.
Skipper Liz Watson, who shared the centre duties with Jamie-Lee Price, thought that the team was still “building nicely”.
Moving away from her usual wing attack role Watson said it part of Marinkovich’s game plan to use players in different positions.
“There’s probably little runs that we want to try to stop a bit earlier,” Watson said.
“But I think to have different players out there, a different style of play from what we’ve been playing the last three days, to be able to adjust to that and still put 70 goals on the board is still really impressive.”
Dominant Aussies record their highest score of the tournament
Australia piled up their biggest score at the 2023 Netball World Cup as they hit the century mark and completed a clean sweep of their three pool games with a thumping 101-32 win over Fiji.
After wins by 56 points and 47 points against Zimbabwe and Tonga respectively, Australia were far too strong and skilful for world No.19 Fiji, the lowest-ranked of the Diamonds’ three pool opponents.
Kiera Austin and the Diamonds were far too strong for Fiji in Cape Town.Credit: Gallo Images/Netball World Cup 2023
An early start in Cape Town didn’t faze the Diamonds, who conceded two of the first three goals but controlled the rest of the contest.
Anaseni Nauqe and Courtney Bruce compete for possession.Credit: Gallo Images/Netball World Cup 2023
Coach Stacey Marinkovich used 11 of her 12 players, with midcourter Ash Brazill, who started the first two games, rested for Sunday’s match.
All the combinations shone, giving Marinkovich some pleasant selection headaches.
Fiji had no answers to the swift and accurate ball movement of the Diamonds, who forced them into 46 turnovers, with Australia also collecting 15 intercepts.
Goalkeeper Courtney Bruce earned her second player-of-the-match award at the tournament, grabbing eight intercepts and 11 gains overall, despite playing only the second half.
Australia shot at 93 per cent with Cara Koenen (37/37) and Sophie Garbin (54/60) dominant, and they were fed well by Liz Watson and Kiera Austin, each of who logged 24 goal assists.
Captain Watson was most pleased by Australia getting into a rhythm quicker than in their first two games.
“I think to be able to start the way we did, the last two games we weren’t really strong out of the blocks,” Watson told Fox Sports.
“So to be able to have a really good first quarter and then push on and once again get almost everyone out there on court and different combinations.
“So (we’re) really happy with the first three games.”
Garbin and defender Jo Weston each got their first start of the tournament, ensuring all 12 squad members had at least one start across the three games.
Watson and Keen were the only Australians selected to start all of the pool games.
Australia outscored Fiji 23-9 in each of the first two quarters to lead 46-18 at half-time.
The Diamonds maintained their momentum despite Marinkovich making multiple changes before both the third and fourth quarters.
They had a 12-1 start to the third quarter, which they won 26-9 and overpowered Fiji 29-5 in the last.
Australia could play either Malawi or Scotland on Monday evening or Tuesday morning (AEST), depending on the results of the later games.
“We’ve obviously got areas that we want to improve on,” Bruce said.
“We want to be able to win every five minutes of the game and just our execution under fatigue is our real focus at the moment and going back to that hard one-on one Aussie defence.”
World Cup campaign on track
On Saturday, Australia recovered from another slow start to deliver a second convincing win at the netball World Cup with a 85-38 thumping of Tonga in Cape Town.
Moving the ball quickly and accurately, the Diamonds dominated after taking over three minutes to get their first lead.
It’s captain versus captain as Tonga’s Hulita Veve takes on Liz Watson of the Diamonds.Credit: Getty Images
Australia had just a two-goal advantage at quarter time but outscored world No.7 Tonga 70-25 over the remainder of the game.
The Diamonds shooters nailed 91 per cent of their attempts, making their first 31 shots.
Sophie Garbin (42/45) was strong after coming on for the second half, with starter Cara Koenen (29/30) another reliable target.
Australia also clamped down defensively with their pressure forcing 36 turnovers, notching 25 gains and 11 intercepts.
Tonga scored the first goal but seven straight scores gave the Diamonds a 10-3 lead.
The spirited Tongans trailed Australia 15-13 at the first break, with the Diamonds again out of the blocks slowly after trailing Zimbabwe early on Friday.
“Its something we’ve spoken about for a long time, even in all our buildups to be here, it’s our starts that we want to address,” Diamonds captain and centre Liz Watson told Fox Sports.
“We need to come out there with that strong start, lots of teams come out really firing when they play us at the start, so it’s being able to absorb that and being able to play our game.
“We spoke about it last night after yesterday’s game so disappointed we couldn’t get that, but I knew that once we kept grinding and building the result would come.”
The Diamonds piled on the first 10 goals of the second quarter and a run of nine unanswered goals set up a 39-19 half-time lead.
They maintained that momentum despite multiple changes at in the second half, outscoring Tonga 24-9 in the third period and 22-10 in the last.
Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich made three changes to the starting seven she deployed in their first game.
Australia’s Jamie-Lee Price, player of the match, looks to pass against Tonga.Credit: Getty Images
Goal attack Kiera Austin, centre Jamie-Lee Price and goal defender Sarah Klau came in for Steph Wood, Paige Hadley and Sunday Aryang, respectively.
Price was named player of the match.
As she did in the first game, Marinkovich brought her five bench players on for the second half, with vice-captain Wood earning her 50th Test cap and Austin switching to wing attack.
Former Diamonds star Mo’onia Gerard spent time at both goal defence and goalkeeper for Tonga, who had two-time NSW Swifts Super Netball title-winning coach Briony Akle as their assistant coach.
Australia will face world No.19 Fiji In their last pool game on Sunday.
Earlier, defending world champions New Zealand also notched their second win, but were made to work for their 54-44 victory over Uganda.
Diamonds’ campaign kicks off with crushing win over Zimbabwe
On Friday, Australia’s Diamonds have outshone Zimbabwe’s Gems to score a crushing 86-30 win on the opening day of the netball World Cup in Cape Town.
Australia’s pressure and shooting accuracy proved too much for world No.13 Zimbabwe.
The Diamonds scored at least 20 goals in each quarter and kept the opposing shooters to collectively just over 70 per cent.
Grit and determination: Cara Koenen of the Diamonds in front of her opponent.Credit: Getty Images
The Diamonds shot 92 per cent with Cara Koenen (29 from 30) leading the way with good support from Sophie Garbin (27/30), Kiera Austin (18/20) and Steph Wood (12/13).
Coach Stacey Marinkovich gave all 12 players a run, as the No.1 world-ranked Diamonds dominated after taking a few minutes to really assert themselves.
Koenen scored the first two goals of the match, but Zimbabwe notched the next three for their only lead of the game.
“We did have a slow start, we haven’t played Zimbabwe in a long time, so it was getting used to tiger style and trying to work them out,” Australian goalkeeper and player-of-the-match Courtney Bruce told Fox Sports.
“I’m happy with how we pushed on and finished that game.”
Bruce snaffled three of her four intercepts before quarter-time as Australia found their rhythm.
Australia’s Sophie Garbin.Credit: Getty Images
The Diamonds scored five in a row to lead 15-7 and by nine at quarter time.
Australia outscored the African nation 21-7 in the second quarter to lead 41-18 at halftime.
The second half was even more one-sided, with Australia taking the third quarter 21-6 and the fourth 24-6.
The margin of 56 goals was 19 better than Australia achieved in their previous clash with Zimbabwe at the last World Cup four years ago.
Marinkovich opted for an experienced starting seven, featuring established club combinations in both circles.
The West Coast Fever duo of Bruce and Sunday Aryang started at the back with the Sunshine Coast Lightning pairing of Koenen and Wood given the initial shooting duties.
Marinkovich rejigged her side at halftime, introducing defenders Sarah Klau and Jo Weston, midcourter Jamie-Lee Price and shooters Austin and Garbin, and switching Bruce from goalkeeper to wing defence.
“It’s nice to get out here, get that first game out of the way and have everyone out on court and put out a really solid game in the end,” Diamonds captain Liz Watson said.
The mid-court stalwart demonstrated her commitment by inadvertently crashing into a camera operator, collecting a few scratches and needed some strapping.
Defending world champions and world No.2 ranked New Zealand started their campaign with a 76-27 win over Trinidad & Tobago.
The Diamonds play their next game on Saturday against Tonga, whose assistant coach is dual NSW Swifts Super Netball winning mentor Briony Akle with a squad which includes former Diamonds star Mo’onia Gerrard.