Australia’s netball arch-rivals New Zealand have denied them Commonwealth Games gold for the second straight time, in the most dramatic and gut-wrenching way imaginable.
The Silver Ferns won Thursday’s gold medal match 66-64 in a seemingly interminable second period of extra time, in what must have been one of the longest netball clashes in history.
The Diamonds slumped in disbelief as Maria Tutaia scored the winning goal, to end a match that went way past the 14 minutes of allotted extra time, as the two teams agonisingly traded goals before NZ claimed the two-goal advantage needed to bring about the final whistle.
The two powerhouses of the sport now each have two netballing Games golds and two silvers with Australia winning in 1998 and 2002, but the Silver Ferns upstaged them in Melbourne in 2006 and added more pain on Thursday.
Australia had looked on track for victory on several occasions, leading by five goals late in the second quarter and still ahead 23-20 at halftime, before the Silver Ferns made their surge.
New Zealand, fuelled by towering shooter Irene Van Dyk breaking free after a quiet first half, took the lead for the first time late in the third quarter and were two goals in front at three-quarter time.
They then delivered what looked like a killer blow with five goals to none to open the fourth term and were cheered on by a large, enthusiastic crowd, chanting “Kiwi, Kiwi” to surge seven ahead.
But Australia’s oldest player, 34-year-old Cath Cox, was subbed into the game at a time-out early in the fourth quarter along with Kim Green to wing attack, and this almost proved a masterstroke.
Cox rained in a string of shots to reel in what had looked an unbridgeable deficit and forced the match into two extra seven-minute periods.
But the veteran who was part of the team that lost to the Silver Ferns in the gold medal decider in Melbourne in 2006 and in Manchester 2002, had a chance to clinch the match from long range in the dying seconds of regulation time, but her aim was off.
Again, at the end of the second extra time period, Cox had the chance to land what would have been the gold medal-winning shot, with Australia holding a 59-58 lead.
But another miss prolonged the match with the sides trading another 13 goals before Tutaia deservedly delivered Australia’s death knell and the gold for NZ with the final two goals.
Australia finished with silver and England bronze after they earlier cantered to a 70-47 win over Jamaica.