Kat Ratnapala of the Vitality Roses and Saracens Mavericks.

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 28: England coach Kat Ratnapala during game 1 of the Cadbury Netball Series between the New Zealand Silver Ferns and the England Roses at Claudelands Arena on October 28, 2020 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Vitality Roses fell to a 58-45 defeat at the hands New Zealand on Wednesday morning in the opening fixture of their Cadbury Netball Series campaign.

In their first taste of competitive international action since January, the visitors came up against a strong Silver Ferns side in Hamilton.

In a repeat of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup semi-final, the Vitality Roses battled hard against a side full of players with international and club games under their belt.

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The hosts won all four quarters at the Claudelands Arena but were pushed by their opposition, who gained plaudits by Silver Ferns Head Coach Noeline Taurua after the match.

With Head Coach Jess Thirlby passing on instructions from the UK, her assistant Kat Ratnapala was the one relaying advice to the players. The Saracens Mavericks Head Coach was proud of what she saw.

“Do you know what, I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of every single one of them that stepped out on court today, and we obviously were able to get 11 players out on court,” Ratnapala said.

“Yes, no one wants to come out and lose your first test however there are some massive patches in that play that we can take away and we will build going into the next game I’m sure.

“Obviously, the journey we’ve been on hasn’t been the smoothest and I thought that we’ve adapted to a lot of change throughout. Today, we just needed to adapt a little bit quicker but I’m really pleased with what was brought onto court.”

Laura Malcolm was appointed co-captain alongside the returning Serena Guthrie and the Manchester Thunder star impressed in an unfamiliar wing attack position.

The 29-year-old led with the most feeds (18) for the Vitality Roses and notched up 11 goal assists for her country.

Alongside the rest of the Vitality Netball Superleague players in the squad, Malcolm was playing her first competitive match at any level since March and was glad to be back on court.

“It felt amazing [to be back]. We’ve been waiting for any netball for way over seven months so to be able to play that in front of a crowd like that was absolutely amazing and it’s a real pride to do that for, not only netballers but women in sport in general,” she said.

“I honestly cannot believe we’re even here, there’s just so much hard work that’s been put in. It’s all pulled together and that’s just absolute credit to New Zealand Netball, England Netball and the New Zealand Government.

“It is so special and it’s way bigger than netball itself. Every one of the players and staff are really proud to be here.”

England have two more fixtures against the Silver Ferns coming up on Sky Sports Mix and official YouTube channel. They play at the same time on Wednesday 30 October and Sunday 1 November.

The aim will be to win the series but Ratnapala knows there are more positives out there than then results.

With the Suncorp Super Netball players rested, plenty of younger UK-based players have been given a deserved opportunity to shine against one of the world’s top two sides.

Ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, giving debuts to the likes of Imogen Allison could prove invaluable in the long-term.

“We’re building towards the Commonwealth Games. A lot of players weren’t available due to Super Netball so we’re making sure that we’re making the most of the opportunity, getting players out there and seeing what they can do,” said Ratnapala.

“Imogen Allison had her first senior cap tonight which is amazing. To play New Zealand in New Zealand is amazing for her so she’s really stoked. I’m really pleased and proud that she could get out there.”

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