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Jamaica walking on sunshine

A day after dumping Brazil from the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup, Jamaica were again the talk of the sporting world yesterday when they handed defending champions New Zealand their biggest-ever loss at a Netball World Cup with a stunning 59-48 victory to confirm their place in the semi-finals.

On a spectacular day of change to the netball world order, the Sunshine Girls registered a statement 11-goal victory in Cape Town, South Africa, despite leading by only two heading into the final quarter.

The Caribbean island nation next faces record world champions Australia in the semi-finals, while New Zealand’s Silver Ferns take on England, who beat Australia for the first time a the World Cup with a thrilling 56-55 earlier yesterday.

Speaking after the match, Jamaica’s assistant coach, Keyan Murdock, said his side were rewarded for taking the game to the holders.

“It was a very good game, it kept us on our toes the entire match. We expected it to be that though – it’s New Zealand we were playing. They’re number two in the world for a reason, and so we expected that kind of a performance from them,” said a jubilant Murdock.

“We were glad our team were able to ride the waves and pull through at the very end. There are always things to work on, but we’re happy for the win.”

Jamaica are officially the Silver Ferns’ tormentors at major netball tournaments, after thumping the Ferns by 16 goals at the Commonwealth Games last year. The Sunshine Girls’ captain Jhaniele Fowler said discipline and focus made all the difference on the day and is key to their perfect run at the global spectacle.

The imperious Fowler finished with a 100% shooting average, firing in all 49 of her attempts and being named most valuable player.

“To be honest, I felt no pressure throughout the game. I knew what was expected of me, and so I just did my best to go out there and deliver.

Jamaica maintained their unbeaten run in scintillating fashion when upstaging the world champions to put themselves in the contenders’ conversation.

With two matches in two days against two top teams, it was perhaps no surprise that New Zealand started slowly against the Sunshine Girls, who raced into a four-point lead after the first quarter.

It appears the exertions of a nail-biting draw with hosts South Africa late on Wednesday appeared have taken its toll on the champions.

The Silver Ferns managed to engineer a way to grow back into the game, and, led by captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Maia Wilson in attack, they cut the deficit to three points at the interval.

New Zealand kept within touching distance, but Jamaica maintained their narrow lead with slick play around the circle and clinical finishing from Fowler.

In the final quarter, they pulled away from New Zealand to secure victory, with Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio telling BBC TV they had some “soul searching” to do.

“I think we felt in control when we had ball in hand . . . I think we were definitely in it until we let ourselves down a little bit, but actually for most of it I was very proud of our intent to stick to our game plan,” said Ekenasio.

New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua said they struggled with the intensity of the rampant Sunshine Girls.

“I thought we still turned over a lot of ball. I thought it was gallant – I think that’s a good word – and they fought right through until the end. There were so many changes that were happening from Jamaica, and it was quite physical as well,” Taurua said.

“Pity it ended in that way, because I thought it was quality from both teams . . . but there are some positives we’ll be able to take out of it and some lessons we’ve got to learn – these reccurring themes that are coming out that we need to be better on.”

Similarly, Australian coach Stacey Marinkovich felt her team had their chances and will have to take a look at how to be more direct.

“In terms of our discipline, I don’t think we were too bad. There were moments when we had to accumulate pressure a little earlier. Our second quarter was very good in terms of how we were able to get the ball to the shot. It was loud out there, no doubt, and we haven’t had that for a bit. I don’t know if the atmosphere unsettled us, but we didn’t stay calm and go through our structures when we needed to.”

When asked about the tag of underdogs coming into the World Cup, England coach Jess Thirlby said her side does not pay much attention to what anyone else thinks.

“From a netball perspective, we know how good we are. From a technical point of view, we are on par with the top teams. The most reassuring thing we are taking away from today is to be able to come back from eight down and see a game out in the closing quarter. This is the most valuable thing we can take away.”