SINGAPORE - Even as Singapore recorded a convincing 47-20 win over Ireland yesterday evening at the Netball Nations Cup, their third straight victory in the annual tournament, celebrations were muted at the OCBC Arena, save for the raucous crowd of 1,169 who cheered the team on.
Because under coach Ruth Aitken, world No. 19 Singapore have developed a ruthlessly efficient streak - comfortably beating lesser opponents, such as world No. 27 Ireland, and occasionally putting higher-ranked teams to the sword.
Over the course of the Nations Cup, Singapore had also beaten world No. 17 Papua New Guinea (47-42) and world No. 16 Botswana (46-41) .
And after watching her charges limit Ireland to just five points in the last two quarters, New Zealander Aitken played down her own Midas touch, crediting the team's good form to the hard work many parties put in behind the scenes.
She explained: "We've got a lot of support, the girls are working very hard, we've got an amazing association... I was just handed the baton to continue it, and I'm trying my best to keep growing the confidence, to keep chipping away and getting better."
But it is clear the team are on the ascendency. They finished runners-up in the Nations Cup last year, improving on a fifth-place showing in 2012.
Then, in September this year, the side retained their Asian crown, beating four-time champions Sir Lanka by a whopping 18 points in what was a repeat of the 2012 final.
Two years ago, they beat the same opponents by just one point in the final.
Quality flows through the team - from defensive stalwarts Premila Hirubalan and captain Lin Qingyi, and the energetic play of Nurul Baizura and Kimberly Lim, to the sharpshooting of Charmaine Soh.
There is also depth from the schools level, with New Zealand star player Maria Tutaia telling The Straits Times last week that she was impressed with the talent of a group of B division players (15- and 16-year-olds) she was coaching.
Lin said the team are buoyed by recent results but will not get carried away.
"We're on a roll, and recent results have been morale-boosting, but we can still improve. Other teams are getting better as well.
"But, yes, I think we are in a good place ahead of the Netball World Cup," she added.
Indeed, the team are aiming for a good showing at the quadrennial world meet in Sydney next August.
For now, they are focused on today's match against Samoa, which pits the Nations Cup's two remaining unbeaten teams against each other.
Aitken, who was appointed in July last year, said: "They're really efficient in attacking and use their bodies very well. It's going to be a massive step-up for us but that's what it's all about. But if we can keep sharp, and get that ball speed going, we'll do well.
"We've done really well to give ourselves a good chance of success."
In the day's other matches, Malaysia defeated Papua New Guinea 52-43 while Samoa beat Botswana 49-34.
This article was first published on December 10, 2014.
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