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NZU21s open title defence in style

Giving most of their players an early taste, the NZU21 team opened their Netball World Youth Cup Gaborone 2017 (NWYC2017) campaign in style with an 89-22 win over Northern Ireland.

Putting the finishing touches on their preparation in South Africa ahead of the Botswana-based tournament, the New Zealanders finally got to put months of hard work and fine-tuning into practice with a commanding outing.

In one of the most talented NZU21 teams ever assembled, captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson was able to take a full part in the action after being sidelined with a back injury for the last two weeks of the ANZ Premiership, having stints at both goal defence and wing defence in the team’s tournament opener.

``That was a good starting point for us and it was great that we maintained a consistent intensity through the four quarters,’’ NZU21 coach Kiri Wills said afterwards.

``It has set a platform and now we need to keep building towards the more challenging games ahead. It was great to get a number of players out on court and now it’s about pressing forward and focussing on our standards and improving across the board.’’

With a strong representation of ANZ Premiership performers, there was no shortage of firepower in New Zealand’s starting line-up which included Silver Ferns Kelly Jury (goalkeeper) and Maia Wilson (goal shoot) as well the team’s youngest player Tiana Metuarau, the teenaged schoolgirl shooter showcasing her enormous talent during her first year at the elite level.

After winning the last title, held in in Scotland four years ago, the New Zealanders are looking to defend the title for the first time in their history after achieving wins in 1992, 2005 and 2013.

Able to make changes seamlessly throughout the match helped New Zealand finally get into competition mode while blowing out the cobwebs ahead of the remaining eight-day tournament.

Mainland’s Charlotte Elley and Central’s Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, both coming off strong Beko Netball League seasons, teamed as the midcourt pairing for the first half while lively wing defence Fa’amu Ioane (Northern Stars) rounded out the team for the opening half.

The New Zealand team held their shape perfectly through the first 30 minutes to post quarter scores of 21-6 and 43-11. Changes for the second half included Netball South’s Aliyah Dunn coming on at goal shooter, her southern team-mate Abby Erwood taking over at goal defence, Mainland’s Kate Lloyd also joining the defence line at goalkeeper and Central’s exciting young wing attack Kimiora Poi slotting into the pivot’s role at wing attack.

The changes were executed with the minimum of fuss, the New Zealanders pushing out to a 66-18 lead at three-quarter time before restricting Northern Ireland to just four goals in a dominant final stanza.

New Zealand meet Samoa in their second of four pool matches early Monday morning, broadcast LIVE on the NNZ Facebook page from 12am (NZST).