When England Nets travel to South Africa for the World Indoor Netball Championships this week, the Ladies team will be battling to retain their title after success three years ago.
England Ladies won the seven-a-side category against the might of Australia, hosts New Zealand and South Africa in 2016. This year, the 13-strong squad are looking to prove that gold can be their colour again.
Previous glory serves as motivation:
The World Indoor Netball Championships represent the pinnacle of Nets and gathers four nations represented by 17 teams in the Cape of South Africa.
The tournament runs between 4-10 August and brings together the world’s best Nets players, who will compete for the title in each of the respective categories.
England Nets Ladies will arrive in Paarl as holders and face an intense campaign against the best sides on the planet.
Natalie Miller will co-captain the side alongside Caroline Buckland and the 28-year-old believes her side are ready for battle.
“The Ladies squad went three years ago to New Zealand and won the 7’s so the excitement is there to try and defend our title. We’ve been training for over a year so we’re ready to just get there and try to get the job done,” she said.
Miller was part of the squad that won gold in New Zealand in 2016 as England Nets broke away from their title of ‘underdogs’ – due to the popularity of the sport in the southern hemisphere – to become world champions for the first time.
“That was my first ever tournament or World Cup with Nets and it was the best and most exciting thing that could have happened in my netball career,” she said.
“Everyone believed that we had a good squad but, with Australia and especially New Zealand, we’re always seen as the underdogs so it was nice to go in and be the surprise country, that took everybody by surprise.
“We, as a squad, can always say that we’re world champions and we can never lose that. It was so lovely to have that reward for our hard work.”
Defending champions aim to retain crown:
England Nets Ladies’ squad, managed by head coaches Rowena Scott-Fairclough and Sharron Lewis-Burke, is not short of talent. Plenty went to the previous edition of the tournament with the U21 Women squad and there are also Vitality Netball Superleague stars scattered throughout the team.
Nicknamed The Enthusiast, Miller is optimistic regarding this squad’s chances of fending off the likes of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa for the title.
“I’m absolutely optimistic about our chances. I think our squad that we have going out there is dangerously good,” she said.
“We have some big names in our squad including some Vitality Netball Superleague players which just fills us with confidence and we have got such a great team. I think we have the substance to go out there and win.”
They will play eight games in three days in the six-a-side category and will then, following one rest day, partake in an identically intense schedule in the seven-a-side discipline.
Miller said: “This is everything that we train towards. Four different countries are there but we will be playing two to three games a day. It’ll be exactly the same format for 7’s so essentially we are doing two tournaments whilst we’re out there.
“It’s going to be huge. There’s not going to be any game that doesn’t have a huge amount of intensity and every game needs to be won. The thing that makes the tournament so special is that everyone is there to win and every match can be very even. I think that brings an exciting element to every game.”
Captaincy an honour for Miller:
Miller suffered a major setback last year after rupturing her Achilles and thought that selection for this tournament was out of the question. Determined to make it, she played her first game of the season in September and was duly named co-captain of her country.
“I think [being co-captain] is definitely my greatest achievement. I’m just so immensely grateful for the opportunity. It’s great on a personal level but just to have the honour of being able to lead this team through the tournament with Caroline Buckland. I’m immensely proud of that,” she said.
All fixtures listed are in UK time – South Africa is currently one hour ahead.
6’s Day One (Sunday 4 August) – Australia vs England (10:00) / New Zealand vs England (13:00) / South Africa vs England (16:00). 6’s Day Two (Monday 5 August) – Australia vs England (11:00) / South Africa vs England (12:00) / New Zealand vs England (15:00).
7’s Day One (Thursday 8 August) – Australia vs England (8:15) / South Africa vs England (12:00) / New Zealand vs England (14:35). 7’s Day Two (Friday 9 August) – Australia vs England (08:00) / South Africa vs England (11:45) / New Zealand vs England (14:15).
England Nets Ladies Squad:
Alexandra Boughey, Caroline Buckland (co-captain), Florence Edwards, Louise Grainger, Brogan Griffiths, Lucy Herdman, Kayleigh Jean, Natasha Khatib, Kara Miller, Natalie Miller (co-captain), Nicky Savill, Thea Rose-Thompson, Francesca Wells, Gill Queripel (Team Manager), Rowena Scott-Fairclough (Head Coach), Sharron Lewis-Burke (Head Coach), Faye Bateson (Assistant Coach).
For more information, visit the World Indoor Netball Association website.