Dejection turns to delirium as England bounce back to beat Jamaica
England came into the bronze medal match with a point to prove. Heartache in the semi-final had to be quickly forgotten and the team were desperate to restore some pride and show the world the true ability they have running through their ranks. The final whistle signalled a 70 – 49 victory for Sue Hawkins’ side, pride restored, reputation intact and third place secured.
The gap between these two nations had looked to have been closing following a Test Series in the Caribbean earlier in the year, but if the Sunshine Girls had thoughts of overtaking England as the third best team in the world, these were proved premature. They were outclassed in every department as England sauntered to third place. The same starting seven as yesterday featured today, this time they had a point to prove. From the outset the mid-court were hustled and bustled for possession, every time a player in yellow had the ball she was immediately shadowed by an England body. Not knowing what to do, Jamaica started looking for hopeful passes which Jade Clarke, Sonia Mkoloma and Geva Mentor were only too happy to pluck out of the air.
At the other end Tamsin Greenway and Karen Atkinson were supplying some sublime feeds into the circle. On the receiving end, Pamela Cookey and Joanne Harten were slotting the ball home and racking up the goal count. Harten in particular looked incredibly relaxed and she rocked back in her shooting motion to send the ball tumbling into the net. Interceptions, turnovers and deflections were the order of the day at the back and the build-up play through the transition was persistent, patient and professional. In the match against New Zealand the transition phase may have looked as rough as old boots, but today it was as smooth as silk. At the end of a frenetic first quarter England led 18 – 12.
The second quarter continued in much of the same pattern. England were working hard all over the court, looking for a comfortable half-time cushion. If it wasn’t for a couple of efforts finding the ring and rebounding favourably for the Sunshine Girls, the game may have been out of sight after 30 minutes. As it was, Jamaica were able to capitalise on a couple of turnovers but at no stage ever looked like seriously troubling the English defence. Mentor was leaping all over the circle to restrict Romelda Aiken and was having some success in nullifying the main threat from the opposition. At half-time England had stretched the lead to 34 – 26.
The Jamaicans were unusually early back onto court and had to wait for few moments before England eventually appeared, strolling confidently back to their seats. Hawkins to the chance to make a change and Stacey Francis replace Mkoloma at GD. There was a solid exchange of scores at the start of the half as both sides struggled to maintain possession of the ball. However, every time England gave the ball away, Clarke seemed to be on hand to immediately put the team back in control. England were playing with smiles on their faces and looked to be really enjoying the occasion. The further they stretched ahead the more disconsolate and pained the expressions became on the Jamaican bench and of those on court. A couple of injury time-outs had effected the flow of the game but it was purely detrimental to the Sunshine Girls as it was they who were struggling for momentum.
Head Coach Hawkins resisted to make any further changes and remained true to the ‘If ain’t broke don’t fix it’ philosophy of coaching. England were in cruise control and unlike 24 hours earlier all of the combinations were working as they sailed into a 52 – 36 lead at the end of the third quarter. The team remained comfortable in the fourth quarter and were showcasing some great creativity and flair. All angles were being exploited and on more than one occasion, one of the team made a long range pass while stumbling to the deck. Against New Zealand, anything that was attempted failed to come off, today everything tried turned to gold, or should that be bronze?
As the end of the game neared it became obvious that England are a lot closer to second in the world than they are to fourth. A dominant display was being provided as they continued to out class their opposition in every area. The only negative would be that a few too many shots were missed in the second half, but that would be like finding the orange flavoured chocolate in the box, not very nice but it doesn’t spoil the enjoyment. The final score justified what had been witnessed on court. A great way to end the tournament and a fantastic remedy for the pains yesterday. Clarke and Harten were doing battle for the Player of the Match award and it was the Northern Thunder mid-courter who took home her second of the tournament. The pocket dynamo has been a real success at these games and will no doubt continue to get stronger.
It has been a real mixed bag of a Championships for England. Some inconsistent displays in the group stage saw England come out strong in the quarter-final before falling to New Zealand. However, this is twice in a year that they have easily overcome Jamaica in a bronze medal match and that points to good things in the future. Lessons will be taken from this showing and England will come back stronger, better and more determined to crack the top two and make a major final. Something, or rather someone, who won’t be back is Co-Captain Karen Atkinson who retires after today’s game. The inspirational mid-courter has represented England for over a decade and has witnessed how far the team have progressed in this time.
The performance against Jamaica mirrored many of the characteristics that Atkinson has shown in her time within the England squad. Passion, pride, determination, heart and world class ability. The standard has been set and the team must progress from here in their quest to break into the top two and eventually become the best in the world.
You can watch the broadcast of the 3rd/4th place play-off and the Final between New Zealand and Australia, on Sky Sports 4, Tuesday July 12th at 5pm.
All images courtesy of ©Michael Bradley/WNC 2011
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Content: Alex Sexton, England Netball