A well-drilled Australia added the polish to seal a first-ever FAST5 Netball World Series title after outclassing South Africa 34-20 in the Grand Final in Christchurch on Sunday.
The netball community revelled in the return of the shortened version of the game with a vibrant and colourful two days of competition as all teams, after a three-year hiatus, enjoyed the mix of intense rivalry along with the light-hearted nature of the event.
A largely unknown and young team, South Africa delivered a close and tight first half before Australia put their foot down with a dominant second half.
Showing more finesse and accuracy across the court, Australia were graced with influential figures. Shooter Sophie Garbin was an immoveable rock under the hoop with her positioning and accuracy while midcourter Kelsey Brown and defender and captain Tara Hinchliffe were pillars of strength in denying South Africa opportunities.
With one power play left in the final quarter, there was a glimmer of hope for South Africa, who had previously shot well from distance but a determined Australia proved their value to keep the Proteas scoreless for the entire six minutes to snuff out any hopes of a comeback.
“We knew coming into this game that we hadn’t won this tournament before, so it was a real moment for us to take away the win today,” Brown said afterwards.
“We’ve been watching the Diamonds be really successful in the last few weeks. We were trying to have a lot of fun between the rounds here but come the final, it was like, yep, this is our time to shine and we wanted to get out there and bring home the trophy and follow after the Diamonds.”
Playing their best netball of the tournament, the FAST5 Ferns secured the bronze medal with a dominant 39-25 win over England.
With Aliyah Dunn and Georgia Heffernan in sizzling shooting form, the FAST5 Ferns turned the tables on England who had pipped them by one with a buzzer-beater goal in round robin play.
Uganda, showing their growing stature in world netball, and who quickly became crowd favourites, signed off in style when cementing fifth spot at their first-ever experience of FAST5 netball with a 32-10 win over Jamaica.
The team from Africa thrilled onlookers, who combined poise and patience with natural flair in quickly adapting to the nuances of FAST5, while also having the distinction of being the only team to beat eventual winners Australia during the two-day festival of netball.
In the last round of games to determine the playoff matches, Australia won the battle of the front-runners when posting a 34-28 win over England. The pair went into the match on three wins and one loss apiece, the result leaving Australia in pole position.
With an encouraging 40-22 win over Jamaica, the FAST5 Ferns earned a place in the bronze medal match courtesy of a better goal percentage, edging out a gallant Uganda in the process.
In a game of huge importance, the final of the round robin, South Africa continued their eye-catching progress throughout the tournament to advance to the Grand Final. Needing to beat Uganda to edge England for a place in the final against Australia, South Africa did just that with a tight but well-merited 27-22 win.