Netball: Silver Ferns fall to archrivals Australia at Quad Series in World Cup preview

World champions New Zealand have suffered a Quad Series setback against archrivals Australia, falling 59-57 at Cape Town in a possible preview of the Netball World Cup later this year.

After leading by as many as eight goals in the second quarter, the Silver Ferns lost their momentum and conceded a couple of costly errors early in the fourth, when they fell five goals behind, desperately seeking turnovers to bridge the gap.

They got one, when Aussie shooter Steph Wood missed from under goal, and finally got the second, when defender Karin Burger stole a feed in the dying seconds, but the NZ women ran out of time to convert.

Defender Jane Watson claims the ball against Australia
Defender Jane Watson claims the ball against Australia. Photo credit: Getty Images

The contest showed there is very little between these two teams, who have faced off in seven of the eight World Cup finals, including the last eight. After a 16-year drought, New Zealand regained the world crown with a 52-51 win at Liverpool in 2019.

South Africa will host this year's edition at Cape Town in July/August.

The Silver Ferns must now beat England in their last remaining round-robin game to book another meeting with the Diamonds in the Quad Series final on Thursday (NZ time).

Coach Dame Noeline Taurua began the game with a line-up of Grace Nweke, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Gina Crampton, Kate Heffernan, Burger, Jane Watson and Kelly Jury, and they responded with 17-13 advantage after the opening quarter. 

Four straight goals to start the second provided the Ferns with their biggest lead, but an 8-1 run from Australia closed that to just a single goal at halftime.

While Dame Noeline gave all her squad a run, Aussie counterpart Stacey Marinkovich made just one change, swapping Paige Hadley for Kate Moloney at centre for the thid quarter.

Taurua's decision to bring Kelly Jury into goal defence for the final period may have proved costly, as Wood used her speed around the attacking circle to good effect, before the Kiwi coach switched back to Burger for the closing stages.

Nweke continued her outstanding shooting form with 42/44 (95 percent) - a repetition of her stats against South Africa in their opening win.

"I was really happy with how we started as a group," said captain Ekenasio. "It's always a really tight tussle when we play Aussie and that was the kind of game we know it is.

"I was really proud with what the girls put out on court tonight, but we just didn't quite come away with it.

"We know we work better when we work together. Sometimes, we get pushed into isolation, so that's one area we have to work on."

New Zealand's chances of making the Quad Series final were enhanced, when hosts South Africa scrambled a 46-46 draw with England, despite have a player sent off in the closing stages. 

Australia 59 (Koenan 38, Wood 21) NZ 57 (Nweke 42, Wilson 8, Ekensaio 7)