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NZU21s breeze through first play-off game

Facing their first real test, the NZU21 team eased into the semi-finals of the Netball World Youth Cup Gaborone 2017 after outclassing South Africa 69-32 in Botswana on Thursday.

As they have done for much of the tournament, New Zealand let their starting seven settle in for the first half before fresh legs were introduced at varying stages through the second 30 minutes.

The defending champions produced a strong start and an equally-effective finish, South Africa offering some resistance during the middle stages but unable to sustain their intensity for any length of time.

New Zealand opted for a tall defence line against the athletic and nimble South Africans, captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson slotting in at wing defence while her fellow ANZ Premiership defenders Abby Erwood and Kelly Jury formed a potent in-circle pairing.

At the other end of the court, the skilled teenaged shooting duo of Tiana Metuarau and Maia Wilson were tasked with ensuring the scoring momentum ticked over.

Lively wing attack Mila Reuelu-Buchanan was instrumental in deftly feeding the agile shooting pair, who proved difficult targets to mark with their ability to switch roles while proving comfortable at shooting from all ranges.

South Africa struggled with their second phase play against a rock-solid New Zealand defensive wall, impatience proving costly with the New Zealanders heading to the first break with a healthy 20-9 lead.

It was a more purposeful South Africa who came out to play on the resumption, staunch defence slowing New Zealand’s momentum as the pair went goal-for-goal in the early stages. Maintaining their composure, New Zealand kept their noses in front through superior finishing and absorbing whatever South Africa could conjure up to lead 36-20 at halftime.

Impressive goal attack Monica Falkner was introduced in the second half, sinking a confidence-boosting long range shot with her first touch. Fleet-footed centre Kimiora Poi also made her entrance when replacing Charlotte Elley.

Fresh legs in the form of South Africa’s in-circle defensive pairing meant some adjustments for New Zealand, who took time to settle in the face of a spirited challenge. South Africa held their own in the opening exchanges, New Zealand having to play the ball around through extra pairs of hands to find the openings.

Eventually, they regained overall control, dominating the closing minutes leading to the last break with Jury and Erwood tightening the screws as South Africa’s shooting options dried up. With their opponents falling away, New Zealand pounced to hit the last break with a 51-26 lead.

It was more of the same in the run to the line, New Zealand restricting South Africa to just 12 goals during the second half, with Player of the Match, Jury, proving an influential figure.

New Zealand shooting stats:

Monica Falkner 12/15 80%
Maia Wilson 40/44 91%
Tiana Metuarau 12/13 92%
Aliyah Dunn 5/5 100%