The Vitality Roses succumbed to a seven-goal, 54-47 loss to the New Zealand Silver Ferns on Friday morning.
After a 13-goal defeat in the first game, the performances showed signs of rapid improvement by the visitors who enjoyed impressive spells during the 60 minutes.
The result, however, means that it will be the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup champions who will lift the Taini Jamison Trophy when the sides meet again on Sunday 1 November.
With Head Coach Jess Thirlby communicating from home, due to a positive COVID-19 test, it was her assistant Kat Ratnapala who was giving the instructions from the bench.
The Saracens Mavericks Director of Netball was impressed with what she saw from the team but knows, after a lacklustre third quarter, that there is room for improvement going into the final encounter.
“We’ll take it, build from it and move forward. I don’t think a coach or players are ever happy so we’re always pushing for more. We were prepared for anything to be hit at us today and I think that’s what they tried to do. I was really pleased with how we adapted and how we faced that head on,” she said.
“In the first-half, we were putting the pressure on and making sure that we were capitalising on movement and some of the learnings that we had in the first test. To be leading at the end of the first-half, I thought was fantastic. There are lots and lots of positives that we can take from it so a really another exciting opportunity for us.
“I was absolutely confident at half-time. To win a quarter in this test in particular is fantastic for us. It’s a building block to where we’ve come from so all that we’re looking for is incremental changes and adaptations throughout, we were pleased with that tonight.”
The squad of 12 differed slightly for the first game and all played selected featured at different points during the fixture.
The Vitality Roses are currently without those playing their club netball in Australia so the Cadbury Netball Series also gives the team a chance to blood less experienced players against one of the best teams in the world.
The 2022 Commonwealth Games will be on the mind of all the coaching staff during this cycle and Ratnapala believes giving a variety of players an opportunity will only help their chances in Birmingham.
“It’s great that we’re making sure we’re exposing more people to the New Zealand style of play. We’ve got four fantastic shooters in there that can all do a job for us, for example, and all bring a very different elements to the game so it’s making sure that they get the exposure.
“As I said, we’re building towards Commonwealth Games so we need to make sure we’ve got the strongest opportunity for the players to get out there, experience the international play and make sure that we’re moving forward to that goal.”
One of the younger players on court was Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, who was making her fourth appearance for her country.
“I absolutely cannot fault Drakeford-Lewis’ work rate, her determination and grit. We’re so really proud of her” – Ratnapala.
The goal attack gained plaudits for her performance in and around the shooting circle. She scored 11 and got 12 goal assists as well as performing her defensive duties admirably.
Drakeford-Lewis, 21, was proud of the performance and also has a message for all of the fans watching from home.
“I think we can be really proud of the performance we put out there this evening. I think we pushed the Ferns really hard and now we’re really looking forward to the next game on Sunday,” she said.
Sophie: “I think for us it’s just making sure we capitalise on the turnover we get. The Ferns are obviously really clinical, so it’s really important that we take advantage of the times where we can turn the ball over from them and take it through to our goal.
“A massive thank you to all the fans that have got up early to watch us play! We all really appreciate it and hope we can bring back a win on Sunday.”
Attention now turns to the third and final game of the series on Sunday. The match, which will be shown live on Sky Sports once again, is an opportunity to secure a victory before returning to England.
Ratnapala will be hoping that co-captain Serena Guthrie – making her 100th appearance for the Vitality Roses – will be available having sustained an ankle injury during the game.
“We’ll have to see how Serena gets on. She’s obviously being assessed now from a physio perspective so we’ll see. We think it’s just a roll of the ankle so fingers crossed,” said Ratnapala.
“Her contribution has been massive. She’s been a huge role model, a fantastic ambassador for our game. She’s done so much for the game, she’s an amazing athlete and an amazing friend and person as well so she means a huge amount to us.”