Ferns look to ramp up pressure
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All grind and no glamour, the Silver Ferns wing defence role will come under the microscope when New Zealand meet Australia in the fourth and final Constellation Cup netball Test in Invercargill on Thursday.
With Kayla Cullen sidelined for three months following foot surgery, the Silver Ferns have been scrambling to fill what coach Janine Southby describes as a hugely under-rated position.
"I think it's pretty obvious we're light on the ground there at the moment," she said on Wednesday.
"I don't know if it's the most glorious position out on the court, and it's not the one that gets all the kudos.
"But certainly wing defence is a pivotal position - when you've got a quality wing defence, you know."
Long-time centre Laura Langman, who made her debut 11 years and 140 games ago for the Silver Ferns at wing defence, has provided that quality since taking over the role in Cullen's absence.
Langman's speed and ability to read the game have proven invaluable, and her tenacity in marking one-on-one played an important part in New Zealand's 53-51 second-Test win in Launceston.
"Laura's that player that can shut someone down, she does a lot of ground work and wearing down, and she came up with some great tips and intercepts in that second test," Southby said.
Circle defender Anna Harrison played a cameo quarter on the wing in the third Test, but her impact is greatest at goal keep or goal defence.
The New Zealanders give away significant height to Australian shooters Caitlin Bassett and Gretel Tippett, who both top 1.90m comfortably, and Southby says more work is needed up-court to slow down the feed into the rangy, mobile pair.
"The circle like to know where the feed is coming from, and when that's controlled, it makes their job a lot easier.
"For a goal keeper or goal defence, if you've got feeders coming from all over the show and spinning at you, it's damn hard work."
Tippett shared game time with veteran goal attack Natalie Medhurst in the first two Tests, but played all four quarters in the third and looks to be an exciting long-term prospect for Australia.
The 23-year-old basketball convert has only 12 Tests to her credit, but has impressed Southby with her increasing confidence and maturity.
"There was a lot more determination about the way she played in the third Test, and we didn't get into her head at all.
"We know we've got a lot of work to do to shut her down."