CATHRINE Latu last night gave a glimpse of what the post-Irene van Dyk era will look like for the Silver Ferns - and it's not all bad.
Given van Dyk has been the Ferns' key strike weapon for the past decade, there has been a certain amount of hysteria about how New Zealand will remain competitive when the 39-year-old eventually calls it a day.
NEW ZEALAND 44
But in Adelaide last night the Ferns proved they could match it with the world champions without their star shooter, well for 50 minutes at least.
Nothing separated the two sides over the first three-quarters of the match, with the scores tied at 36-all heading in the final turn.
But the Australians produced a strong surge early in the fourth period, stringing together a run of seven unanswered goals to secure a flattering 51-44 win.
The result saw Australia level the Constellation Cup series at 2-all, after the NZ leg of the series in June was tied at one apiece, setting up a thrilling deciding test in Melbourne on Sunday.
The result also ensured that the recent pattern of alternating wins between the countries continued, following the Ferns' one-goal win in Perth at the weekend.
Neither side has been able to claim consecutive wins against their rivals since September 2009.
Perhaps responding to claims from her Australian counterpart this week that the Ferns' line-up is predictable, NZ coach Waimarama Taumaunu proved she had a surprise up her sleeve after all, leaving the world's most experienced shooter on the bench and handing the goal-shoot bib to Latu.
There were some early nerves from the crafty shooter as the pressure of her first start for the Ferns told in her opening play, with a couple of soft turnovers.
But as the half wore on, Latu started to look comfortable in the red-hot environment, displaying some clever movement and solid finishing.
While Latu took some time to find her feet in the shooting circle, Australia were experiencing early nerves of their own, with New Zealand racing out to a 5-1 lead.
The Australians struggled to get the ball in to the shooting circle in the first five minutes as the new midcourt combination of Kimberlee Green and Erin Bell took time to find their rhythm.
Once the pair ironed out the early problems, it did not take the home side long to run down New Zealand, turning the deficit in to a 7-6 lead mid-way through the spell.
A timely injury break allowed the Ferns to regather their composure later in the period and get their noses back in front to lead 14-12 at the first break.
The see-sawing nature of the match continued through the second half, with each side experiencing strong surges, only to release the pressure with patchy periods of play.
But again it was the Ferns who held the lead at the break, albeit by just one goal at 26-25.
The expected injection of van Dyk into the game at halftime did not come, with Taumaunu holding her nerve and keeping Latu out there, while also opting to inject rookie defender Kayla Cullen at goal defence.
It looked an inspired decision when the Ferns took a four-goal lead mid-way through the third period, but the now-customary late fight-back from Australia soon came and the momentum stayed with the Diamonds over the final period.
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