England Netball

Ama Agbeze has emphasised how the Malawi Series is crucial as preparations for the Commonwealth Games intensify.

Tracey Neville has selected a squad with a mixture of youth and experience and all players will be out to prove themselves with selection for Gold Coast 2018 on the horizon.

With competition for a place on the plane rife and the squad for January’s Quad Series yet to be decided, Agbeze has stressed how all players need to make the most of this opportunity.

She said: “It’s really important – this is probably one of the last opportunities for some people to be seen.

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“We obviously have Quad Series but you don’t know who’s going to get selected for that so it’s very important that if people want to put their hand up for Commonwealth Games, that we perform well now.

After a successful summer playing against the top nations in the world, the England Roses now face Malawi, who are currently ranked sixth.

But Agbeze stressed that despite the Roses being ranked three places higher, the gap is closing between all of the teams.

She said: “I think world netball is moving forwards.

“We saw from the Quad Series that South Africa did well, we did well and so you can’t really rest on your laurels and think that there are easy teams to beat.

“Malawi have some key players in their team and actually if they can pull 60 minutes of netball together, they’ll be pretty good contenders to win the series so it’s important for us that we cement things that we built in the Quad Series and show the world that we mean business and we’re trying to get a gold medal in 2019 as well as getting to the final of the Commonwealth Games next year.”

So what exactly can Roses fans expect from the Queens?

Agbeze said: “I think they play with flair, they’re quite exciting, they’re a bit unconventional – they hold possession a lot and will do 100 passes if it means they’re going to get the ball safely to goal.

“It’s interesting netball so it’s not the same old, same old you usually see in us vs. Australia for example.”

But Agbeze admitted that their style of play can prove quite frustrating and a challenge to counteract.

She said: “South Africa played a little bit like it in the Quad Series and we struggled to win ball off them.

“I think it’s just about building pressure so hopefully they eventually make mistakes or we turn the ball over.

“But I think also making sure you defend for more than three seconds because against other opposition you cover an opponent and then you ease off slightly because the person isn’t going to look back at them, whereas with Malawi you cover the person for two seconds, the person with the ball looks away, then turns back and gives it to your person and you basically look like you’ve not been doing your job.

“So I think just sticking to tasks for as long as possible, building pressure, making them make mistakes or win the ball eventually.”

Agbeze is leading the side once again and acknowledges the added responsibilities that come with the role of captain.

She said: “I think it is a massive, massive honour to be captain.

“It’s very hard work but I try to do it to the best of my ability.

“As a captain, you lead off the court but you also lead on the court so it’s my responsibility to play well and try and lift people.

“So if I can play well myself, it then means I can turn my mind to helping the team do things and be better on court.

“Hopefully my game’s quite good so I can actually do the other jobs I have to do.”

The team’s hopes and expectations for the series are crystal clear.

Agbeze said: “We want to win 3-0 – I think that’s the minimum but then we’ve been working on a few things in training so trying to implement those.

“There’ll be times where hopefully if things come off, you’ll see the whole team literally just stop and jump for joy because we’ve ticked a box and if you look to the coaches, they’ll also be cheering.

“So it’s about just nailing some things that we’ve been trying to work on to build into our game and then winning.

“I think Tracey will be keen to get people out there on court to give people opportunities because as we’ve said, Commonwealth Games is next year and this is the second last opportunity to be seen for selection.”

The schedule for the upcoming Roses fixtures is as follows:

Friday 24th November, Copper Box Arena, 7.45pm

Sunday 26th November, Copper Box Arena, 2pm

Wednesday 29th November, Genting Arena, 7:45pm

It promises to be a thrilling battle between two dynamic teams and tickets are selling fast so don’t miss out on your chance to be courtside – buy yours now!

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