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Vicki Oyesola of the Vitality Roses and Leeds Rhinos Netball.

Vicki Oyesola of the Vitality Roses taking on New Zealand. Source | Bex Charteris

After three hard-fought matches against the New Zealand Silver Ferns, the Cadbury Netball Series came to an end for the Vitality Roses at the weekend.

The Vitality Roses put up three battling performance against the world champions in Hamilton in what was there first taste of competitive international netball since January.

It was New Zealand, though, who came away with the Taini Jamison Trophy after recording three victories at the Claudelands Arena.

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The Silver Ferns won 58-45 in the opening encounter before England narrowed the margin of victory in the second game, losing by seven. In the final match, some dazzling play by the hosts ensured they would win three of three.

Head Coach Jess Thirlby will be able to take plenty of positives from the test series despite the results. The visitors showcased their grit and looked a match for their opposition over long periods during they stay in Oceania.

One of the positives was giving young, less experienced players an opportunity to compete in the famous red dress. On more than one occasion, the great depth England have to call upon was clear for all those watching in the stadium or on Sky Sports to see.

One of those players was Yasmin Parsons. The Surrey Storm mid-courter had already made her senior debut at Netball Europe Open last year but was playing one of the world’s leading nations for the first time.

“To finally get to wear the red dress and just to go out there and represent your country on an international stage means everything to me. It’s an overwhelming feeling and I’m just really happy and grateful for this opportunity,” she said.

“Today was my first time playing with Jade Clarke in a red dress so I’m really chuffed. You always see these players and you train alongside these players, then actually to go out and play in an international test series with them was phenomenal.

“I’m also super proud of Imogen [Allison]. I know what it was like when I got my first cap and it is such an honour and a great feeling to achieve. This group is so unique and we’re really diverse due to the characters we have who just make England even more special.”

Parsons was brought onto court during the third and final match, which England unfortunately lost 62-47 on Sunday morning.

The prowess of an experienced Silver Ferns side proved too much to handle for an England side missing the likes of co-captain Serena Guthrie and their Suncorp Super Netball players.

Some fine individual performances and great team play at times meant that the whole 60 minutes was always competitive. Parsons believes that her teammates surprised the home side and those watching.

“They’re a really tough opposition in terms of their zone defence so takeaway points for us is our triangles, our swings and just opening up the court,” she said.

“Even though the [Silver] Ferns won, I think we brought it to them and we haven’t played netball for eight months and I thought we played phenomenal against them. I think we tested them in more ways than they thought that we would so I’m really pleased with how we performed and I think it’s only going to build from here.

“It’s really hard to say whether COVID-19 had an impact. The Ferns have had that background of the ANZ Premiership and then they’ve had the Cadbury Series. For us, we haven’t had that court time but for we have been back in a training environment since August.

“Considering where we’ve been and where we’ve come now, the way we’ve played has been phenomenal. You could say it has but I think overall we should be really proud of our performance here and I think there’s so much more this team can give.”

Another player brought on after half-time was young defender Vicki Oyesola. The Leeds Rhinos Netball player came on for Fran Williams and her tight defending proved advantageous in disrupting those inside the shooting circle.

The 22-year-old defended well alongside Razia Quashie – who enjoyed an excellent series – against some of the world’s best shooters in Maia Wilson and captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio.

“I think personally it was really great experience to be here on a senior tour abroad, especially in the circumstances and as a team we learnt that we can get through things together. We were able to put out strong performances each game, despite everything that we had to go through to get to this point,” she said.

“It definitely meant a lot in terms of getting the exposure at a senior level, internationally on court and also just being able to play netball, given the circumstances as this time. There’s not a lot of other people that can play netball in the UK at the moment so it’s definitely great to have that opportunity.”

The Vitality Roses also had to cope with their Head Coach having to isolate back in the UK during the test series.

Thirlby had tested positive for COVID-19 despite showing no symptoms and worked alongside Assistant Coach Kat Ratnapala during training sessions as well as the matches themselves.

The former Team Bath Head Coach watched alongside thousands back home in what was the first three international matches since lockdown began.

“It was definitely a shock when we heard that she wasn’t going to be here but the coaching staff really made it work. We had a lot of input from Jess through video calls so she was still really involved with the series and we still felt connected as a team so it worked out alright,” she said.

“We just want to say a massive thank you to all the fans at home. “e definitely felt the support on social media and we were really proud to be able to put out performances that can make all the fans at home proud.”

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