Silver Ferns 54 South Africa 43
The Silver Ferns are back to their winning ways but still showed inconsistency in a solid victory over South Africa in Netball Quad Series in London.
The world champions dominated the first half of the dead rubber before South Africa finished the stronger, winning the final quarter by five goals.
The Silver Ferns opened the Quad Series with defeats to Australia and England, missing out on a spot in the final.
"We came out with a win so that's always a good thing. I'm not too sure about that performance. There was some good performances, defensively they turned over some good ball but probably what I'm a bit disappointed about is our basic skill sets to some degree. We need to be better. Even though we did win, I think we should have actually won by more," Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua said after the win.
"There's some things that I think individuals need to tidy up on and we'll talk about that and come back tomorrow to try and be better," she added.
There were four personnel changes to the starting seven for the Silver Ferns, including five positional. The tall frame of teenage shooter Grace Nweke earned her first start in the black dress with Maia Wilson picking up the goal attack role, Shannon Saunders got her first start of the series, at centre, with Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick uniting as the in-circle defensive pairing.
Nweke was impressive in a starting role with a near-perfect performance in the first half. The 19-year-old shot 21 from 22 in the first two quarters, rebounding and scoring off her only miss, to lead the Silver Ferns to a 31-19 halftime lead.
She finished with 30 goals before sitting out the final quarter. Centre Mila Reuelu-Buchanan impressed on debut after replacing Gina Crampton for the second half. Goal attack Tiana Metuarau finished with 15 from 16 while Maia Wilson had an off night with nine from 13.
It was another learning experience for both sides, inspiring midcourt captain Bongiwe Msomi lining up in her 137th appearance for the Proteas who were also missing some familiar faces.
The early exchanges were highlighted by a rash of turnovers by both sides, the attack ends taking time to settle before the Silver Ferns took a grip on proceedings.
Errors continued to thwart the Proteas before reliable shooter Ine-Mari Venter helped close the gap ahead of the Silver Ferns taking a 15-9 lead at the first break.
The Silver Ferns defensive trio, with Karin Burger playing against her country of birth, put the squeeze on the Proteas attacking line on the resumption as they looked to up the tempo.
Exciting shooting prospect Metuarau was injected after six minutes, her playmaking skills coming to the fore with immediate effect and her ability to get quick ball to Nweke.
The 1.93m Nweke was a constant thorn for South Africa, stationed under the hoop, strong feeds from Metuarau and Saunders regularly finding their target as the Silver Ferns shot out to a decent lead at the main break.
Energetic and lively midcourter Reuelu-Buchanan became Silver Fern #181 when making her debut, at centre, at the start of the second half, adding extra spark to leave an impressive imprint.
Taurua praised Reuelu-Buchanan in her maiden appearance for New Zealand.
"I thought she did really well. She added a bit of pepper in there. Her feeds into the circle were quite nice and considering she hasn't been out on court, and this is her debut, she entered onto the court really well so quite pleasing for her."
The Silver Ferns snuffed out a strong start by the Proteas to retain the ascendancy during the third quarter which, again, produced a mix of free-flowing play along with a number of cheap turnovers.
The Proteas continued to struggle to penetrate the masterful full-court defensive play on show from the Silver Ferns, with Burger, Karaka and Fitzpatrick combining expertly to pick up the spoils as the New Zealanders kept their opponents to single figure returns.
Metuarau was in the thick of action both on attack and defensively while highlighting her playmaking skills as the Silver Ferns headed into the last break with a 43-28 lead.
Wilson returned for the last quarter while Samantha Winders was injected at wing defence for Burger as 10 of the Silver Ferns got a run during the match.
The two teams will square off again tomorrow in the third and fourth place match-up with Australia and England already booked in the final.