New Zealand's netball stars target Glasgow 2014 success

By Keir MurrayBBC Sport Scotland
Interview: New Zealand netball coach Waimarama Taumaunu

Like all great coaches, Waimarama Taumaunu carries an air of authority.

It is noticeable at Bellahouston Sports Centre in Glasgow, where the Scotland netball squad, the Scottish Thistles, are benefiting from the New Zealander's years of experience in her beloved sport.

When she makes a technical point about, say, a player's positioning, the Thistles listen intently.

She demands greater communication, more aggression, more thought from the 20 women vying to make the final squad of 12 for the Commonwealth Games squad in 2014.

It is uncomfortable at times for the players but they seem happy to be challenged.

Certainly, Taumaunu's CV carries considerable clout; a former New Zealand captain, she played in goal defence for the Silver Ferns from 1981 to 1991 and won the World Championships with them in 1987.

She was appointed MBE in 1992 and was performance director at All England Netball for almost six years.

"It's great to be learning from the best," says goal attacker Lynsey Gallagher.

"It is a little bit intimidating. Learning from a coach of that calibre is always going to be a bit daunting, but we are here to train and to do the business."

Taumaunu is bringing the Silver Ferns, ranked second in the world, to Glasgow in January for two exhibition matches at the Emirates Arena before travelling south to take on England.

That's a chance for fans to sample the talents of a top-level team before the Kiwis return to the city next summer to defend their Commonwealth Games title at the SECC venue, which has sold out.

New Zealand are in the same pool as Scotland and are expected to fight for the gold medal with perennial rivals Australia, plus England and Jamaica.

"It's in New Zealand and Australia's best interests to help the international game develop," explains Taumaunu, 51.

Interviews: Lesley MacDonald, Jill Fullarton and Lynsey Gallagher

"At the moment the reality is that there are four teams internationally; three give us reasonable competition and the remainder don't, and unfortunately at the moment that includes Scotland.

"It's up to us, England, Australia and Jamaica to help the rest of the world develop because as an international game we need more than just four top teams."

Taumaunu's return to Glasgow came about through her friendship with Scotland's new head coach in waiting, Gail Parata, who takes over from interim head coach Jill Fullarton next week.

Taumaunu believes the Scottish players are improving. Just this week their world ranking improved by one place, to 12th.

"I always found them, two years ago and now, to be very eager and engaged and that is still there, but the physical conditioning is the most obvious [difference] and the surety of ball handling," said the visiting coach.

In terms of areas where the Thistles could improve, Taumaunu identifies the shooting circle, where the team's most capped player, Lesley MacDonald, is supported by some very young team-mates.

However, Taumaunu believes Parata has much to offer and much to work with once she gets on court.

"Gail is a very organised, disciplined coach," she asserts.

"She's a good tactician and she has a very quiet, but very approachable and amenable manner."

MacDonald says she is "realistic" about the Thistles' standing in the game relative to the Silver Ferns' status, but she is a great believer in learning from the best.

"We know New Zealand and where they are in the world. If we can learn anything from the top nations, it can only help us," she tells BBC Scotland.

"We'll take it back into our pathways and our junior national teams.

"Although we are playing them in January, our main aim is the Commonwealth Games. What we are learning is tremendous for us."

For Gallagher, 21, a match against Surrey Storm next month and the games against New Zealand are a chance to stake her claim for a Commonwealth Games place.

"We'll find out before the European Championships, which take place at the end of May," she explains.

"The squad that goes there will be the one that goes to the Commonwealth Games in July."

Fullarton and Parata communicate frequently and the latter is eagerly anticipating Glasgow 2014.

"Knowing that we have a full house for all games is going to be fantastic," says Fullarton.

"We want to take advantage of the home crowd to really motivate the team on court.

"The games in January will be a good test to see how far we have come in the last six months."