IT was a result very few had seen coming. New Zealand had all but been written off based off its performances against both England and Jamaica, and the patriotic home crowd at NEC Arena – still disappointed from the loss to Australia the day before – were ready to cheer the Roses onto a Bronze Medal. After all, England had romped to a 16-goal win over the Silver Ferns off the back of a dominant start in their respective teams semi-finals. Except the Silver Ferns ripped up the script and ran out seven-goal victors themselves, 55-48.
NEW ZEALAND 14 | 15 | 12 | 14 (55)
ENGLAND 13 | 10 | 12 | 13 (48)
Still disappointed from missing out on the chance of winning back-to-back Gold Medals at Commonwealth Games, home nation England headed into the Bronze Medal Match against New Zealand as strong favourites. Until running into a determined Diamonds outfit, the Roses had no troubles breezing past opponents, including a lacklustre New Zealand in the group stage. With the first quarter start in their previous encounter the difference, both sides knew the importance of starting well.
On this occasion, Jess Thirlby started Eleanor Cardwell alongside Helen Housby, with the combination of Grace Nweke and Te Paea Selby-Rickit up the other end of the court. Neither the reigning Commonwealth Games Gold Medallists nor the World Cup champions would be taken home Gold at these Games, but one would be taking home a Bronze. The first quarter was largely neck-and-neck as two goals in the final minute to the Silver Ferns gave New Zealand a narrow one-goal buffer at quarter time. Avoiding a blowout first term like the group stage was the first goal and Dame Noeline Taurua could tick that box.
Nweke was doing the bulk of the scoring for the Silver Ferns, as the Roses kept in touch throughout the first half of the second term. With just over seven minutes on the clock, New Zealand held a one-goal lead and there was nothing between the sides. After missing a chance, Nweke grabbed the rebound and nailed the goal, and then up the other end, Housby missed her opportunity. That triggered a run on from the Silver Ferns teenage goal shooter score four consecutive goals. Thirlby quickly subbed off Layla Guscoth with Stacey Francis-Bayman replacing her, but the Silver Ferns kept scoring with three of the next four goals to open up an eight-goal advantage with two minutes to play. Three consecutive goals to the home nation gave the Roses fans some hope, with a late Selby-Rickit goal making it a six-goal lead to the Silver Ferns at the main break.
At half-time, Imogen Allison – having provided many sparks throughout the tournament – came on for Jade Clarke and the teams once again traded blows like the start of the game. Some fantastic shooting from Cardwell cut the deficit to as little as four goals at one stage, though Housby was becoming unusually shaky, missing three of her next four chances. A late goal with a second remaining in the third term helped Cardwell drag her side within six with 15 minutes to play and the Bronze on the line. England made the change to bring back Guscoth for Allison, and then Jo Harten got her opportunity by replacing Housby.
Nweke effectively won the game for the Silver Ferns early with three consecutive goals to open the quarter, as Harten scored the first three for her side. Each time England would throw down a challenge, the Silver Ferns would respond and kept the margin at a decent length. The Roses had a push in the final five minutes, with Cardwell scoring three consecutive goals, and to provide more run, Thrilby brought back Allison for Guscoth. With 1:18 on the clock, Cardwell had closed the gap to four, but back-to-back goals to the Silver Ferns sealed the deal with 26 seconds remaining.
A change of Eboni Usoro-Brown on for Geva Mentor in the final 24 seconds was the last remaining move for England, giving the Roses fans a chance to send off their retiring beloved defender. Though not the result the Roses were after, the Silver Ferns were able to prove a lot of doubters wrong and turn around their result from the group match to claim Bronze by seven goals, 55-48.
Nweke finished with 44 goals from 48 attempts, shooting at 92 per cent efficiency, as Selby-Rickit managed the 11 from 14 at 79 per cent. She had 10 goal assists, whilst the midcourt pairing of Gina Crampton (25 goal assists) and Whitney Souness (18 goal assists, two gains and two intercepts) were consistent as ever. In defence, the back trio of Kate Heffernan, Phoenix Karaka and Kelly Jury combined for six intercepts, nine gains and six deflections in an outstanding effort.
For England, Cardwell was superb again, shooting 31 goals from 34 attempts at 91 per cent, while Housby (13 from 17) and Harten (four from five) contributed. Natalie Metcalf provided her goalers with 18 goal assists from 42 feeds, while in defence, Francis-Bayman and Mentor combined for five gains, four deflections and two intercepts.