What if: The Constellation Cup cannot go ahead in 2021
THE second edition of the 2021 Constellation Cup was almost a go before COVID-19 got in the way once more, plunging both Australia and New Zealand into lockdowns with both nations still in various stages of restrictions. While the Constellation Cup has since been postponed indefinitely, it seems to be less and less likely that the international test series will go ahead, with the whole series pending on the trans-Tasman travel bubble which is currently – for the most part – out of action. While the Cup was initially set to be played back in October, it seems that opportunities are running out for the two nations to clash before 2022. So what does this mean for the world number one and two?
With differing restrictions across the two nations, it is safe to say there is a certain degree of difficulty when it comes to organising upcoming test matches. While it is clear that both Australia and New Zealand would benefit from the opportunity to go head-to-head, it appears to be more of a logistical challenge than anticipated, especially with the updated trans-Tasman bubble currently only supporting one-way non-quarantined travel from New Zealand to Australia, and only from New Zealand’s South Island.
With squad-members spread across each country and varying restrictions from state to state and region to region, there is a significant chance that ongoing talks between the two nations and resulting governing bodies will go on too long to see a second Constellation Cup series this year. Factor in the amount of hotel quarantine that players from both countries have already been required to do over the past 12-18 months, and there is a high chance that player wellbeing will take the front seat over valuable international opportunities.
Realistically, a potential cancellation of the Constellation Cup would hurt Australia far more than New Zealand, with the Silver Ferns managing to complete a three-match series against the England Roses in late September, and also competing in some valuable matchplay against the Aotearoa Men’s squad in mid-October. Comparatively, the last competitive match the Diamonds played was against the Ferns during the March Constellation Cup series. With only practice matches since then, it ultimately does not quite hit the mark for the world number ones when it comes to preparation for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
With the likes of fellow top five World Netball nations in England, Jamaica and South Africa currently participating in ongoing test series’, continuously testing out combinations and sharpening connections as the year winds down, Netball Australia and Netball New Zealand somewhat pose a risk of falling to the backburner and relying on limited international match fitness rather than continued test experience against fellow high-ranking countries. Factor in that the Diamonds play with modified rules in the Suncorp Super Netball, and there is a high chance that the ongoing repercussions of the varied style of matchplay will present challenges to the squad come Commonwealth Games time.
While the potential of no more international netball for 2021 could seem like the end of the world – especially with the 2022 SSN and ANZ Premiership seasons both starting back up in March rather than typical later start dates – there will hopefully still be plenty of opportunities for the two nations to go head-to-head come January 2022. Once nation-wide restrictions loosen up and the trans-Tasman border bubble is re-explored in its entirety, there is no doubt the two nations will line up some valuable test opportunities. After all, the two nations rank first and second in the world, and with the Commonwealth Games gold potentially hinging on those rankings, neither Australia nor New Zealand will want to miss out on valuable tests.