Glasgow: If it is the mark of a great team to be able to win when they are not at their best, then New Zealand's champion netballers have produced Exhibit A in Glasgow to escape a thrilling semi-final against England.
The Silver Ferns, aiming for a third straight Commonwealth Games gold medal, set up yet another showdown in the final with arch rivals Australia, who later negotiated their way through their semi against Jamaica with a 15-goal victory.
While the Diamonds coasted into the gold medal match New Zealand booked their place in Sunday's decider at the Hydro by the skin of their teeth, when Maria Tutaia's goal with two seconds remaining giving the Kiwis a 35-34 win.
It was the only goal scored in a nail-biting last three minutes with both teams missing opportunities to go ahead and England, who had led for much of the match, unable to apply the finishing touches again.
They had been similarly unable to put Australia away in the group stage after dominating and lost at the death, and were left shattered by the last-gasp defeat to New Zealand.
"With 30 seconds to go and ball in hand you should win a game," said England centre Sara Bayman.
"I think it is a bit of a lack of experience but it's also about executing under pressure and if you can't do that you're not going to win a major championship. That's the most disappointing thing. It's just crushing right now."
There was another emotion, relief, in the New Zealand camp, after Tutaia's goal from under the post allowed them to withstand the most stiff of challenges to netball's duopoloy.
In her first game back since injuring her foot in a pool match against Northern Ireland last week Tutaia came on in the second quarter and was in anything but the touch of the Commonwealth Games final four years ago, when her goal in double overtime gave the Silver Ferns the gold over Australia.
She shot at only 60 per cent, but when it counted found the net. Fellow shooter Jodi Brown had missed from distance with five seconds remaining, but having run down the clock in lining it up, there was no time left for England when Tutaia claimed the rebound and tossed it in.
"It was definitely a patchy performance and extremely by myself," Tutaia said. "In Delhi my shooting was on point. Tonight I was absolutely terrible. Jodi and I, we know we can play a lot better than what we did and we played into their defenders' hands. We will learn from today's game and make sure that tomorrow we rectify it."
She was confident she would be fit for Sunday's final, for which another injured forward, Cathrine Latu, may also make a return.
"It was a bit achey, but when the adrenalin is running on high and you've got matches as close as that you don't think about it. I should be all right [for the final]," Tutaia said.
New Zealand assistant coach Vicki Wilson, the former Australian captain, knew the Kiwis were not at their best.
"We didn't have cohesion in the forward line and we just lost our rhythm," Wilson said. "But to be able to pull off that final shot – we practise those types of things – and for Maria to get that rebound was great to see."
Attempting to engineer another gold-medal win, Wilson said she had no conflict of loyalties about the clash with Australia in the final.
"I've been with the New Zealand team for 12 months and when you work with a team they become your team," Wilson said. "I'm hoarse because I'm cheering and feeling sick in the stomach when things are struggling. Every part of me is with my team and I want us to win gold."
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