For many elite netballers, the end of the recent Vitality Netball World Cup represented the conclusion of a four-year international cycle. For the Vitality Roses, it marked the start of a new journey both on and off the court.
In the days that followed the tournament, England Netball announced that Jess Thirlby would be taking over the reins as Vitality Roses Head Coach.
The former Director of Netball at Team Bath has been determined to throw herself into the role and has already spent more than 40 days with most of those involved in the full-time Roses Programme.
On the horizon for the Vitality Roses is a three-match test series in South Africa, followed by the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in January, which will be the first time they compete on home soil since the Vitality Netball World Cup.
“It’s been a great start and I’ve really enjoyed it. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know the group in a short space of time,” said Jess of her time with the Roses.
“It’s been perfect for me because of the upcoming South Africa tests and the Vitality Netball Nations Cup at the start of 2020. The sooner I get to know the group, the sooner I’ll know how to get the best out of them.”
Jess began her tenure with a camp in Sedbergh, situated between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. When there, the Vitality Roses squad were given demanding tasks such as mountain biking, paddle-boarding, open-water swimming and scaling waterfalls during their month in the countryside. Their new Head Coach, who is a former England player herself, was right there with them.
Jess said: “When you have a new Head Coach and some new athletes in the programme at the start of a new four-year cycle, it’s perfect to be thrown together and to spend a lot of time with one another. The girls were put in really challenging situations and I was very fortunate to join in some of the activities with them.
“I massively believe in unity and I thought the camaraderie was really impressive. They were prepared to put themselves outside of their comfort zone because it was the right thing to do for their team. That was really encouraging for me. I love to see great character in a team.”
A number of exciting young prospects were there at Sedbergh and many of them later embarked upon a behind-closed-doors tour of Australia and New Zealand with their Head Coach.
Fifteen players were selected by Jess to jet off to play seven games in 10 days against the Diamonds and Silver Ferns. The team also included the likes of Natalie Panagarry and Fran Williams who made their World Cup debut in July.
Commenting on the tour, Jess said: “It was such a great opportunity to expose this team to the Australian and New Zealand style. It’s given me so much information on the group and helps me set directions for the next six months and beyond. I now have a really good understanding of the group I’m currently working with.
“I really feel like the athletes and staff embraced that tour experience for what it was. They weren’t formal test matches and it’s very early in the season for us – but I was so impressed with how the athletes did.”
Whilst on tour, Jess and the team came together to watch some of their fellow England players on TV as they lifted the Netball Europe Open trophy in Northern Ireland, which was followed with a victory at the U21 Netball Europe Championships a week later in Worcester.
Jess said: “I watched every single game of Netball Europe Open, we all did. None of those players had a senior cap and I don’t think the achievement of winning a senior competition can be underestimated.
“At both competitions, they played with a maturity way beyond their experience and it was great to see the amount of young talent coming through. With the World Youth Cup around the corner, it’s going to be really great to see how much we can help accelerate the development of these younger players.
“Longer term, this is about Birmingham and Cape Town. Making sure that we have depth across the Roses Programme and making sure that there is competition for places is so integral to winning another Commonwealth Games or a World Cup.”
Jess will visit Cape Town – the setting for the 2023 Netball World Cup – with a select group of players in November before facing South Africa again, along with New Zealand and Jamaica, in January 2020.
“Whilst some more familiar names may well be taking a little bit of a break after a hectic four-year cycle, there is a lot to get excited about”
South Africa are familiar opposition as the two sides faced off twice in Liverpool this summer, including during the bronze medal match on the final day of the Vitality Netball World Cup.
Jess said: “I’m really looking forward to this test series. In recent years, our meetings with South Africa have become a highlight in the netball calendar. It’s not long after the Vitality Netball World Cup and I’m sure they will want to make their mark.
“My expectations are going out there and competing – I don’t see why we shouldn’t. I’m really excited to see what we can do in our first official outing and I like to think we will be able to compete with a talented South African team.
“Some players are still resting but we have a really exciting group coming through. The players that I’ve worked with are hungry and are really wanting to put their best foot forward.
“The Vitality Netball Nations Cup is going to be something incredibly special too. Thanks to all of those who have gone before us and the momentum built since the Commonwealth Games, there is a real appetite for seeing these Vitality Roses players out on court.
“I’ve said this a few times now but please get behind these Roses. Whilst some more familiar names may well be taking a little bit of a break after a hectic four-year cycle, there is a lot to get excited about, including those coming through the Roses Programme. Get behind them and see what they can do.”
Tickets for the Vitality Netball Nations Cup are now on sale for January 2020, you can purchase your tickets to see the Vitality Roses in action here.