The Vitality Roses won their first-ever test series in New Zealand on Wednesday morning after a 45-49 victory sealed the Taini Jamison Trophy.
After narrowly losing the first encounter, England bounced back in impressive fashion to win the final two games of the 2021 Cadbury Netball Series in Christchurch.
Captain Serena Guthrie lifted the trophy at the end of the final match which saw the Vitality Roses come back from 10 goals down at half-time to end the game four ahead.
It was a stunning second half performance from the visitors both in terms of on-court quality to mental resilience as they battled hard to overturn a large deficit against the world champions.
Geva Mentor was returning after a long spell away from a red dress and thoroughly impressed at goal keeper during all three games either with Layla Guscoth or Fran Williams beside her.
The veteran defender won eight gains over the course of the three games and said she impressed with her team’s resilience in the final match before discussing the squad depth England have at their disposal going into next summer.
“We made it hard work for ourselves but the win is testament to this group and the resilience we’ve shown not just in this series but to even get there. I’m so proud of the girls. There is obviously a lot we can work on. There were a lot of errors at the start but we just held in and showed grit, and that is something we can really build on,” she said.
“We’ve thrived off the energy of everyone on court. If someone does something good then we celebrate it and that really picks us up. We can really hear our bench out there and we capitalise on that. There is lots to work on but I’m just so happy with that. That’s the first time we’ve come away with a trophy [in New Zealand].
“In the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, we’ve got such a great squad now. There are so many people who are eligible for that 12 and we are all fighting for those positions. The beauty is that we are all encouraging each other to get out there and put out our best performance. That’s what I really love about this group. It’s been a while since I’ve been involved [with England] but I’ve felt so welcome and felt the support from everyone.”
Serena Guthrie won her 100th cap against the New Zealand Silver Ferns last October when the hosts won the same competition in convincing fashion, winning all three games in 2020.
The captain has now led her team to both their first victory in New Zealand since 2018 and to their first-ever trophy on Kiwi soil. The Team Bath Netball star was a strong presence on and off the court for the Vitality Roses at the Christchurch Arena.
Guthrie said she was proud of her teammates and some of the younger player who shone in that final outing when she spoke to Sky Sports after the match.
“We came out here to try and win the series. To come back from 10 goals against a classy side like New Zealand is huge for this England team. We certainly showed a lot of grit and determination out there,” she said.
“It’s more than just me out there, the girls in the third quarter put out a great start and we pushed on with real intent. We pushed on from there but it was hard work tonight. I’m really proud of the team effort.
“It was actually George Fisher [who rallied the team]. She got substituted and she came out after half-time and said ‘Look girls, we’re good enough to win this’ and she inspired the team. Fair play to her to be such a young player willing to step up, take the team talk and send us out there firing. We can thank George for that one.
“She [Drakeford-Lewis] is a young talent. She’s got a long way to go but she’s learning in every game she players. She’s got a great head on her shoulders and she stepped up when we needed her the most so it’s been really pleasing to see her development and the future is bright for that girl.”
Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby, meanwhile, won her second trophy in charge of the national team after a series win against South Africa back in 2019 in historic fashion.
Thirlby made a number of decisive changes throughout the three games and made a real impact from the sidelines with her new-look coaching team featuring former New Zealand international Liana Leota.
The ex-Celtic Dragons coach still believes there is a lot to work on going into the Vitality Roses Reunited Series in November but was delighted with her team’s performance in the second half. She spoke to Sky Sports alongside her opposite number Noeline Taurua after the match.
“It’s an incredible achievement. We spoke about trying to make a little bit of history with this generation of Vitality Roses and it’s really satisfying to see them put in a second half performance worthy of lifting the trophy,” she said.
“For us, we really needed to start holding ourselves a bit more accountable to actually get quarter scores and to reach the targets that we know we’ve fallen short on across this broader group of players.
“The third quarter was something we really wanted to work on so we can tick that box but we’re certainly not the done deal because our starts haven’t been where they need to be. Tonight, we just need to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins.
“We’ve still got some quite inexperienced players with the likes of Jade [Clarke] and Serena [Guthrie] in and amongst it. They are really helping to drag those players up and hold us accountable.”
The Vitality Roses’ homecoming after just under two years away will be in the form of the Vitality Roses Reunited Series against Jamaica.
England Netball members will receive a priority ‘pre-sale’ window email to purchase tickets to the ‘Vitality Roses Reunited Series’ from 12pm on Monday 27 September.
General tickets will go on-sale from 12pm on Thursday 30 September on the England Netball website.
Fans can follow all the action live via the England Netball Twitter account and on Sky Sports platforms, with exact programming details to be announced in due course.