Experienced England face early New Zealand test in netball title defence – The Guardian

Posted: July 29, 2022 at 5:04 pm

The reigning Commonwealth champions England will begin the defence of their netball title on Friday in Birmingham with an understanding that what lies ahead will not be easy. Four years ago, on Australias Gold Coast, the Roses dramatically stole victory from the home team, bringing an end to the antipodean stranglehold on the Commonwealth title that had existed since netball was introduced to the Games in 1998.

England, led by captain Natalie Metcalf and vice-captain Jo Harten, have been drawn in Group B for the tournaments opening rounds. They will meet Trinidad and Tobago first, at midday on Friday, then Malawi, Northern Ireland and Uganda, before facing world champions New Zealand.

Group A, meanwhile, the proverbial group of death, includes world No 1 Australia, fourth-ranked Jamaica, the always dangerous South Africa, Scotland, Wales and Barbados. The top two in each group progress to the semi-finals on 6 August with the final the day after as one of the showpiece finales of the Games.

With six members of the golden team returning to the 12-strong squad, England have prioritised experience in the quest to go back-to-back on their home court. The 37-year-old Geva Mentor and 38-year-old Jade Clarke together account for more than a third of Englands 925 caps, which make the Roses one of the most tested teams in Birmingham.

Five players Mentor, Harten, Helen Housby, Stacey Francis-Bayman and Eboni Usoro-Brown compete in Australias Super Netball league while the remaining seven Metcalfe, Clarke, Eleanor Cardwell, Laura Malcolm, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Layla Guscoth and Imogen Allison are based in the UKs Superleague.

Notably absent are 2018 gold medallists Serena Guthrie and Beth Cobden. In a big blow to Englands defence, Cobden was ruled out through injury with three weeks to go while former captain Guthrie announced her pregnancy and subsequent retirement this year.

To guarantee the smoothest road to the gold-medal match England must finish on top at the end of the group stage. To do that will involve navigating past some tricky teams, namely Malawi and Uganda who both possess formidable shooting talent, but the major task will be defeating New Zealand. Two-time Commonwealth winners, New Zealand were typically a shoo-in for any final until England upset the world order in 2018.

But in 2022 an air of unpredictability stalks the Silver Ferns. With key names out through injury and pregnancy, and the inability of star shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio to hit fitness standards in time, the squad challenging for this years Commonwealth title looks to be lacking a killer instinct.

Buoying England will be their historic Test series win over New Zealand last year. It was a triumph followed up by another win against the Silver Ferns in Januarys Quad Series. Overcoming Dame Noeline Tauruas side will not be easy, but England are capable.

Next up should be the semi-finals. England can expect to meet either Australia, Jamaica or South Africa at the crossover stage. Given South Africa are suffering from some big players being out, the most likely runner-up in Group A is Jamaica.

Before England dared to push Australia and New Zealand, their greatest rival has always been the Sunshine Girls. With two of the worlds best players in Jhaniele Fowler and Shamera Sterling, and arguably the best defensive unit in international netball, Jamaica bring a lot to Birmingham. Historically, the Caribbean team have struggled to string together 60 consistent minutes but the recruitment of Australian Rob Wright as a technical coach might be the missing piece for a side hunting their first major international final.

England ought to be cautious but not pessimistic. In December 2021, they gained a 2-1 home Test series win over Jamaica, proving they have the necessary arsenal to quell their familiar foes.

Whichever side makes the final will probably face Australia. The 11-times World Cup winners arrive in Birmingham as the team England will be most wary of playing.

Though they might shun the label of favourites, owing to a lack of preparedness in a four-year-cycle ravaged by Covid-19, when the Diamonds were finally put under the cosh in this years Quad, they came out sparkling. Via a rampaging Gretel Bueta, a player to watch at this tournament, Australia brushed the competition aside including crushing England 58-46 in the final.

The shock one-goal loss on their home soil four years ago hurt and, with a new coach in Stacey Marinkovich as well as a star-studded lineup, all teams better beware an avenging Australia.

See original here:

Experienced England face early New Zealand test in netball title defence - The Guardian

Related Post