National netball team need a reboot for 2016 Asian Championships
Singapore's Asian champion team stay 15th as coach Aitken and skipper take stock
SRI LANKA 32
REPORTING FROM SYDNEY
The Singapore netball team finished their World Cup campaign in 15th place, after their 59-32 victory over Asian rivals Sri Lanka at Netball Central here yesterday.
The team failed to achieve their target of a top-12 finish, ending up in 15th spot in the third successive World Cup campaign, after 2007 and 2011.
The New Paper asked Singapore coach Ruth Aitken and captain Micky Lin to analyse the Republic's performance, and chart the path ahead as they look to defend their Asian title next year.
The Asian champions displayed confidence on the court against familiar opponents Sri Lanka, as well as Pacific Island nations like Fiji and Samoa, only suffering a narrow loss against the latter.
But the Republic were outclassed by African countries, going down to world No. 5 and 6 South Africa and Malawi, respectively, in the preliminary round, as well as Zambia in the second stage, who were a spot lower than 15th-placed Singapore in the world rankings.
Lin, 30, said: "We are quite comfortable in Asia... it is about stepping out and playing against the African nations, which is what the Nations Cup is about.
"We should have more games against African countries because it's one of the playing styles we aren't sure of, and weren't comfortable playing against."
Aitken revealed that she is trying to organise a training tour to Botswana in November, before the year-end Nations Cup on home soil.
"Maybe what happened in the other games was that when we struggled to establish or execute our game-plan, we didn't have enough experience overcoming it," the Kiwi said.
Singapore's players were physically among the smallest in the 16-team World Cup, although Aitken believes the Republic can still compete at the world stage.
She said: "We are fit for the Asian game, but definitely for the international game we need to be stronger and be able to sustain that intensity, and absorb knocks.
"We need to see how we can fit in a third gym session in a week (up from the current two sessions)... because our girls don't come with a lot of muscle bulk... we need to build it."
The lack of international exposure and fitness possibly contributed to below-par performances in some of the matches, according to Aitken, who also acknowledged she hadn't been perfect in her tactics.
"The fourth quarter in that Samoa game was obviously very disappointing to us," she said, referring to the Republic's 46-39 loss.
"I take responsibility for making some changes that I shouldn't have, but you do what you think is the best decision at that time.
"I don't think we are as far away (from our opponents), but I thought we could have been better with what we brought here."
Pointing to the physicality of the game at the highest level, Aitken added: "It's just our ability to pop back up and get on with the game. It is a mental approach as much as it is a physical approach. We need to toughen them up and give them more exposure."
Senior players like captain Lin and co-vice-captain Chen Huifen are 30 years old, while Premila Hirubalan and Olivia Flanagan are 33 this year.
The conclusion of the 2011 World Championships in Singapore was followed by the international retirements of Pearline Chan, Jean Ng and Tan Huiyan.
Asked if the veterans would carry on, the skipper said: "We haven't really come to a decision, but we should soon. I am on 97 caps and that's Ruth's masterplan to keep me on for 100, but we'll see how it goes."
Aitken is looking to bring new blood into the team and will assess the field on a training tour to Hong Kong next month.
She said: "I haven't had conversations with (the seniors on their plans) but there are likely to be some retirements and changes, so we are looking to bring on the next tier of players.
"We will be wanting to give the rest of the squad more international exposure so that I can assess how some of those players can step up.
"It is important that we start to filter some new blood into the group, and train them to be tough."
World champion fever in Sydney
WORLD CHAMPIONS: Diamonds glitter when it is needed most. PHOTO: REUTERS
NEW ZEALAND 55
They were surprisingly brittle earlier in the competition against their deadly rivals even in front of an expectant home crowd.
But yesterday, Australia's Netball Diamonds showed their true colours, pipping the New Zealand Silver Ferns 58-55 in the World Cup final to claim their third straight title, and 11th overall.
Unlike their performance in the 52-47 Pool A loss on Aug 9, the reigning champions started the match brightly before a world record netball crowd of 16,849 in the Allphones Arena at the Sydney Olympic Park yesterday, and finished the first quarter 16-7 up.
Trailing by 12 at one point, New Zealand - ranked second in the world - gradually grew into the game, chipping away at the deficit to set up a grandstand finish.
Australian captain Laura Geitz and teammate Julie Corletto, playing in her final international Test, were solid in defence and the supply to Caitlin Bassett in Australia's shooting circle was almost flawless until the nervy closing stages, but the home side hung on as pandemonium erupted at the final whistle.
At the post-match media conference, Australia coach Lisa Alexander said: "Our attackers tonight were sensational. They capitalised on every little tip and touch that we got. That first quarter set us up nicely.
"This feels pretty special...I never wanted to admit it but this Netball World Cup was much harder in front of a home crowd."
New Zealand's goal assist Maria Tutaia, usually prolific even from long range, sunk just four of eight shots in the opening period and it proved costly in the end.
Speaking after the defeat, she said: "We're pleased we won the last three quarters, but we just did it the wrong way around.
"We beat Australia on day three, we could have done it today, but you've got to give props to them, they did really well.
"We got a little bit complacent, their pressure on defence was pretty tough to break."
How they finished
Final: Australia 58 New Zealand 55
3rd/4th: England 66 Jamaica 44
5th/6th: South Africa 48 Malawi 46
7th/8th: Wales 61 Uganda 41
9th/10th: Trinidad and Tobago 64 Samoa 51
11th/12th: Fiji 51 Scotland 41
13th/14th: Barbados 53 Zambia 38
15th/16th: Singapore 59 Sri Lanka 32