Diamonds clinical in Games opener

 

The Australian Diamonds have opened their Commonwealth Games campaign with their biggest ever victory over Northern Ireland, 94 -26.

It was always going to be a tough task for Northern Ireland to challenge the might of the Diamonds, given the team has only competed at the Commonwealth Games once before and is made up primarily of cross-code football players.

But for moments in the first quarter and patches of the second quarter, Northern Ireland brought plenty of pace and intensity to the match.

That only caused the Diamonds to click into gear earlier than expected, with crisp passing and a near perfect shooting clip that swamped the visitors.

Caitlin Bassett dominated the opening half and her Caitlin Thwaites was even better with a perfect shooting record.

Returning to international netball for the first time since October 2015, Queenslander Laura Geitz was named in the starting seven at goal keeper, and played the first half.

The Diamonds’ lockdown defence turned away any chance of a Northern Ireland challenge, showing the Commonwealth that they are here to play.

Northern Ireland brought intensity to the match, staying within touch of the Diamonds for the first five minutes of the opening term.

Desperate to avoid an early blowout, Northern Ireland locked down and ran hard on both sides of the circle to let the Diamonds know they were in for a contest.

That showed early on the scoreboard, with the Northern Irish women staying within four points for much of the early parts of the contest.

Most of the Northern Ireland squad have Gaelic football pedigree and Australia’s Gabi Simpson wore the brunt of one of the biggest hits of the term.

But the Diamonds didn’t blink, with Bassett doing the main damage to give the Aussies a 23-9 quarter-time lead.

The defensive intensity continued into the second quarter, but fatigue and the hell-for-leather pace the Irish brought to the table opened the window for errors.

Magherafelt siblings Kyla and Lisa Bowman frustrated the Australian side at times, but the desperate scrap for court position led to plenty of high lobs that led to turnovers.

In contrast, the Diamonds’ passing game was flat, crisp and presented few opportunities for the Irish women to latch onto. That allowed the Diamonds to break the game open and head into the half-time break with a daunting 44-15 lead.

Coach Lisa Alexander utilised all 12 players during the game, with Jo Weston and April Brandley both playing at wing defence and goal defence, demonstrating their versatility.

Thwaites showed her class to pick up where Bassett left off, going perfect in the third quarter as the Diamonds took an unassailable 71-21 lead into the final term.

The Diamonds face Barbados in their second pool match on Friday 6 April at 8.30pm AEST, watch live on 7TWO.

– Josh Alston