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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK

Australia accept Kiwi challenge

By Bruce Pope
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

Reigning world and Commonwealth netball champions Australia picked up the gauntlet thrown down by arch-rivals New Zealand with a 83-32 win over Fiji on Sunday night.

Earlier in the day, the Kiwis had set their second Commonwealth Games scoring record of the weekend at the MEN Arena by defeating Sri Lanka 116-26, bettering their 101-17 win over Canada on Saturday.

There is little doubt that Fiji are a better side than Sri Lanka, but the Pacific Islanders were only able to stem the Australian tide during brief periods of this Pool B match.

Australia skipper Kathryn Harby-Williams insisted that her team were concentrating on fine-tuning their own performance rather then worrying about chasing down records.

"The competition for places is really good"
Australia skipper Kathryn Harby-Williams

"It's not a competition, it's not a shoot-out," Harby-Williams said. "We just wanted to concentrate on our own game plan and maintain consistency over four quarters."

Much of the good defensive work came from Ana Ratumaisala, with the goal defence pulling off some great interceptions to break up Australian attacks.

At the other end, goal attack Matelita Shaw was keeping the scoreboard ticking over for Fiji, hitting the basket with some good long shots as the closer option was often denied to them.

But while Fiji could point to some fine individual performances, these were no match for the greater team-work of the Australians.

Up front, goal attack Sharelle McMahon and goal shooter Eloise Southby weaved their passing patterns, often being able to work a better scoring position when another side might have been content to take the first shooting opportunity.

There was little let-up on the Fijian goal after a raft of half-time substitutions either, as Catherine Cox and Jacqui Delaney continued to turn the screw.

No less impressive was the defensive pairing of first Janine Ilitch and Liz Ellis, then later Ilitch and skipper Harby-Williams, who worked hard to deny space in behind and put pressure on every Fijian pass and shot.

"The competition for places is really good," Harby-Williams added. "You would worry if only seven or eight players were putting their hands up for a starting spot, but everyone is performing really well."

A comparatively slack final quarter from Australia limited the scoring but this second win in Manchester sets them up nicely for Monday's match with South Africa - earlier 56-37 victors over Barbados - then a possible Pool decider with Jamaica on the Tuesday for an automatic semi-final place.

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