Thirlby forced to stay behind as Vitality Roses head to New Zealand

The Vitality Roses, who are travelling to New Zealand today to face the Silver Ferns, will be led on the ground by Kat Ratnapala during the series with virtual leadership provided by Head Coach, Jess Thirlby, who has received a positive COVID-19 result.

Despite not suffering any symptoms of COVID-19, due to a positive test received, Jess Thirlby will not travel with the Vitality Roses to New Zealand at this time for the Cadbury Netball Series and is currently self-isolating and following all the necessary next steps.

The 16 England players, plus all remaining coaching and support staff set to head to New Zealand, have all received two negative test results and will be following strict protocols in the lead up to the series, including quarantining after arriving in New Zealand and undergoing regular tests prior to the series commencing. The squad are now reuniting for the flight after two weeks apart, having followed a home-based training programme in that period.

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England Netball has had a number of contingency plans in place for the series and has been planning for various scenarios with the New Zealand Government and Netball New Zealand. With Thirlby unable to travel with the squad to New Zealand, Saracens Mavericks Head Coach Kat Ratnapala, who has assisted Thirlby and the Vitality Roses as Assistant Coach for a number of competitions in the last 12 months, will assume additional coaching responsibilities on the ground for the Cadbury Netball Series. Thirlby and Ratnapala will work closely together in preparing the team for the series using creative methods from across the water.

Colette Thomson MBE will also be heading out to New Zealand and assisting Ratnapala, offering extensive experience and knowledge of both the squad and the international landscape. Thomson was a part of the coaching team that saw England deliver gold at the 2011 World Netball Series, and is more recently known for helping the Vitality Roses on their journey to the podium at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and again on their way to a home World Cup in 2019.

Vitality Roses Head Coach, Jess Thirlby commented: “I am extremely disappointed to not be travelling with the Vitality Roses. We have been taking every precaution; remaining in small bubbles during training, having staff wear masks at all times, as well as players wearing masks when not on court, social distancing, doing temperature checks on arrival, plus self-isolating at home and undergoing a pre-flight testing plan prior to travelling. Whilst I’m still awaiting my second set of test results, we cannot take any risks as the safety of all involved is the priority.

“I have to date not shown any symptoms of COVID-19 so this result has come as a shock. However, I am thankful that we have a strong team in place to help support the squad in person. Kat has been working closely with the Vitality Roses and I in recent test series, and I know the team will take confidence in having her there in my absence. Kat and the Vitality Roses will also be supported by Colette who has worked within the Roses programme for many years and has extensive experience in preparing teams for international competition. I know the Vitality Roses will be in good hands and I will do all I can to support them remotely.”

Kat Ratnapala has been a part of the England set up in a variety of roles, including taking charge of the England U21 ‘Select’ team, working as a Technical Coach for the governing body, and supporting Jess Thirlby as Assistant Coach for the Vitality Roses’ test series against South Africa in 2019 and during the Vitality Netball Nations Cup earlier this year.

She commented: “This of course is not the outcome that any of us wanted. Jess has been doing tremendous work in preparing the Vitality Roses for international competition in these unusual times, she’s been carefully ensuring everyone follows the safety protocols set in place to ensure this series could go ahead and has been itching to get out to New Zealand.

“I will do all I can to support the Vitality Roses during this period, with the help of Colette and Jess, who I know will continue to have a strong presence in the lead up to the games, albeit virtually. I have enjoyed working with the Vitality Roses over the years and especially with Jess over the last 12 months, I will take this as an exciting learning opportunity. I am happy to take on the challenge and feel fully supported by Jess and the team and am confident that we will work closely together in preparing the squad to the best of our ability.

“These are uncertain times but we are doing all we can to keep netball going and to getting the Vitality Roses back playing on the international stage. I hope everyone will send the Vitality Roses and Jess their support and best wishes in the meantime.”

The Vitality Roses have been following the Government’s elite return to play roadmap over recent months and are now able to return to competition as part of that.

The Vitality Roses are scheduled to face the world champions on 28 October, 30 October and 1 November as part of the series.

Everyone at England Netball wishes the Vitality Roses the best of luck in New Zealand and sends their best wishes to Jess Thirlby whilst she awaits further news.

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