Jess Thirlby reflects on the Uganda Series and looks ahead to Australia

The Vitality Roses overcame a tough battle against the Uganda She Cranes to run out 3-0 winners in the Vitality Netball International Series. 

Head Coach Jess Thirlby handed debuts to five players – Alice Harvey, Olivia Tchine, Funmi Fadoju, Zara Everitt and Ellie Rattu – as new combinations and connections were tested. 

After the third and final game, we caught up with Jess Thirlby to discuss her reflections on the series, building into the tour to Australia and the incredible atmosphere created by the fans. 

Jess Thirlby on… 

…the series as a whole 

It’s given us everything that we hoped for – a fantastic challenge against a brilliant side. We knew that they’re incredibly talented and so every game has thrown up different challenges. There’s not one game where we were ever comfortable, but I could not be prouder of what this group have achieved.

For Sunday [the third and final game] to most probably be our best performance and our biggest win, I think is a real measure of the intent that this team have, that they were determined that they wanted the clean sweep. But they had to work really hard for it and asserted themselves so well at the start of the game again with what was a very different line-up rewarding some of those younger players who are putting in now back-to-back performances. Zara, Liv and Funmi getting their start [in the third game] was really special.

We built a brilliant lead by half time and then quite rightly we were challenged again in the third quarter and that senior group had a chance then to assert themselves and build a lead again in quarter four. So there was a lovely energy about the team on Sunday and tactically I saw some real difference in what’s been three games in quick succession so that’s always really pleasing. 

…the importance of testing new combinations and exposing new players to the international stage on the road to the World Cup 

It’ll be a real benefit to us that both this series and Australia are coming around quickly because the earlier in the year, the better, because it affords us some time deeper into the winter to look back and reflect as to what we’re going to take from this next couple of weeks.

It’s been quite challenging preparing a team so soon and with such little time but I think how great this group have been in finding connections so quickly. To bring some of those new players on but to see others supporting that fully and embracing their energy actually I think has been inspiring for me to watch. 

…balancing preparations for the Australia Series at the same time 

It’s definitely been a challenge. I think there’s no way we could wait to this point to turn attention to it so we’ve tried to be smart with the three camps that we’ve had around where are the similarities technically and tactically between our prep for Uganda and our prep for Australia.

There are some but equally, there are some very unique things around the way in which Uganda play which won’t fully translate into the task at hand against Australia so we’ve tried to be efficient with the time that we’ve had and now we can open up that aperture again and firmly have our eyes on the Australia work. We’ve been connecting with the players overseas and also the players like Jade, Nat M and Layla, who have found themselves in quite unfamiliar territory sitting on the sidelines for this Uganda Series, they’ll be raring to go.

Leading right up until test match one, we had everybody in camp and that’s quite new for us – managing that as a coach is challenging but I embrace those challenges and I think, more importantly, the players have and that’s what’s led to a really successful and pleasing series here but also hopefully energises the group that will jump on the plane later this week.

…learnings from the Uganda Series leading into the Australia Series 

We were really determined to finish that last quarter off (in the third game of the Uganda Series) feeling good about the way in which we were playing, and we tried to be as process driven as we could, breaking the game down into five-minute periods, holding ourselves to account and in the main, we did a better job. I thought the likes of Imo and Laura were excellent – most probably their better performance of the three, which is just where you need them to be before we head into Australia.

We’ve really built on some connections – there were sevens out there today who are all going to Australia so lovely, purposeful practice and it is just around building those connections. Liv Tchine’s had a brilliant week and for a young player, Australia is a whole other challenge. It is different but all you can hope for is they grab these opportunities and are feeling positive as they step on the plane, and I think we’ve got that in abundance now.

…the fans’ support 

I just want to say a huge thank you. One of my most enjoyable moments was talking to young fans after Saturday’s game. It always makes me feel quite humble when they ask me for an autograph or a photo so thanks for making me feel special.

The girls spoke pre-game about their love for staying out here after the matches and getting back to interacting with the fans. There’s nothing better than that and I think it’s just reward for both the fans and the players that they can do that now after such a long hiatus due to COVID-19. We’re really grateful and thank you so much for showing your support across this whole series at the start of a World Cup year – it’s going to be a good one!

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