Netballers face tough Hong Kong test
Expat-laden Hong Kong await Asian champions after Thailand scare
ASIAN NETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
They beat the same opponents twice, by more than 30 goals each time, en route to winning the South-east Asia Games gold on home soil last June.
But Asian Netball Championship hosts Thailand gave defending champions Singapore a scare during their Group A encounter yesterday, which the Republic won 49-28.
While Ruth Aitken's team took a comfortable 15-7 first-quarter lead, the Thais came back strongly in the second period to draw the quarter 9-9, and cut the deficit to 24-16.
"We lost a bit of our connections in that period as some of the players were a bit caught up by the crowd.
There were a lot of school children cheering for their team," Aitken, 60, told The New Paper via a phone interview yesterday.
"The Thais also never gave up... They have become a lot better since the SEA Games, playing good, honest netball. They will be (a force to be reckoned with) at the next year's SEA Games," she added of the Thais, who took joint-bronze with Brunei last year.
The Kiwi's half-time team talk on focus and mastering the basics worked a treat, as the Republic went on to win the next two quarters 14-6 and 11-6 to take the tie.
The former Silver Ferns coach has been trying to get the balance between youth and experience right for this tournament, and is heartened by how Zhang Ailin and Josephine Yeo, who earned their first caps against Taiwan on Sunday, have blossomed.
The Kiwi said: "They were a little nervous (against Taiwan) yesterday, but they have proven to be integral to the team's play and provided us with different and useful skill sets.
"Jo is very athletic and speedy in mid-court while Ailin has been very crafty as a goal shooter or assist, creating space for the rest of her teammates."
Singapore were originally slated to play Hong Kong today, but will face them tomorrow instead, due to a last-minute rescheduling of games.
The Hong Kong team will prove to be Singapore's toughest test yet as their squad of 12 include eight expatriates, who are eligible to turn out for the team because they fulfil the minimum two-year residency period for non-citizens.
Among the foreign-born players are former ANZ Championship player Victoria Smith, former Scotland international Anna Pinder, and captain Jessica McCauley, who grew up and played netball in Australia.
Defensive players McCauley and Smith have been nicknamed the "six-foot blondes" in the Hong Kong press previously, due to their height (1.83m).
"They have met my expectations so far this tournament," said Aitken, after watching Hong Kong thrash Taiwan 59-11.
"They have a very tall defensive pair and a tall shooter, and our players will have to rise to the occasion.
"But I've got a plan to deal with Hong Kong."
"They will be (a force to be reckoned with) at the next year’s SEA Games."
— Singapore coach Ruth Aitken on Thailand