NI girls keep up winning ways as they aim for final

Northern Ireland continued their march towards Saturday’s Nations Cup final with their third consecutive victory in Singapore.

Namibia’s late withdrawal from the tournament has seen the sixth spot filled by a Singapore Invitational team featuring several useful Aussies and a Fijian international.

Only leading by five goals after a competitive first half, the girls in green hit their stride in the second half grabbing scores that saw them run away with a 50-29 win.

Julie Kimber made two changes to the starting seven from Monday’s win over Singapore, with vice-captain Niamh Cooper returning.

She took over from Neamh Woods at goal defence with Michelle Drayne replacing Larkfield clubmate Laura Mason at wing attack.

The select side actually led 6-3 in the early stages but undaunted Northern Ireland fought back to go into the first break 10-8 up.

It stayed tight in the second quarter with Northern Ireland extending their advantage to 20-15 at half-time before powerfully pulling clear.

Northern Ireland knew they were in a battle with tough Fijian star Sera Dakuitoga’s ultra-physical defending a feature of the game.

But with world-class centre Caroline O’Hanlon typically pulling the strings, Northern Ireland’s lethal long passes progressively opened up the opposition.

The tournament favourites took the third quarter 13-6 before finishing with a flourish to win by the commanding margin of 21 goals.

Northern Ireland noticeably changed to a short-passing game in the final quarter and created a steady supply of scoring chances for substitute shooter Jenna Bowman.

They now meet unfancied Chinese Taipei today before concluding the round robin stage with what could be the first of back to back games against Papua New Guinea.

Having edged hosts Singapore on the opening day, PNG remained on course for a place in Saturday’s final by beating Botswana 54-49 yesterday.

Captain Gemma Gibney and experienced playmaker O’Hanlon have played every minute of the tournament so far.

Coach Kimber was satisfied overall with her team’s effort but conceded that her side’s conversion rate in the scoring circle was slightly still less than what it should be.

Once again Northern Ireland’s scoring stats were inferior to the opposition but that couldn’t prevent them claiming a third win in three games.