A sensational second half from the Vitality Roses turned around the second game of the Cadbury Netball Series against the New Zealand Silver Ferns on Wednesday morning, resulting in a 45-55 victory.
Their first win over their Kiwi counterparts in 32 months and first on New Zealand soil since September 2018 ensures that it is all play for going into Friday’s decider.
Both teams will now fight it out for the Taini Jamison Trophy live on Sky Sports from 08:30 on Friday morning.
After a slow start, the Vitality Roses rallied after half-time with Head Coach Jess Thirlby’s changes having a particularly poignant impact on proceedings in Christchurch. Substitutes Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Jade Clarke in particular showcased England’s squad depth after coming on from the bench.
Having gone into half-time three down, the visitors won both the remaining two quarters and looked in control against the world champions in the closing stages of the second test.
It was England’s first victory against the Australian Diamonds or the Silver Ferns since 2019 and captain Serena Guthrie spoke of her delight with the result, their third quarter and strength of the squad in her post-match reaction.
“We’ve been hunting for this against a top three team for a really long time so I’m super proud of the girls. It’s all that hard work coming to fruition massively tonight,” said the Team Bath Netball star.
“We weren’t happy with Monday and, honestly, we still made a few too many errors in that first quarter and could have pushed forward a bit more. We’re not there yet but you have to play the game in front of you, and I’m so proud of the team tonight. It was a real team effort.
“It’s [the third quarter] something we’ve been working on. It’s a championship quarter. At the Commonwealth Games or Netball World Cup, that’s when those quarters separate the men from the boys usually. We know we have to start well, especially against the Silver Ferns. We know they’re a classy team that can score quickly and if we don’t take care of our own possession then we’ll be in trouble and we did that a lot better tonight which is pleasing.
“The netball world is changing. You can’t just stick with the VII anymore. There is too much talent out there, too many tactics, everyone is smartening up which is great for the game so we knew we were going to have to use our bench. We have a lot of confidence in those girls. You can see tonight that we managed to use the mid-court particularly well and Jade Clarke – the most experienced player in world netball – was excellent tonight.
“We’ll keep pushing for more and the standards keep rising. The sky is the limit. You just have to keep pushing and we’ll see what we can come up with on Friday.”
Head Coach Thirlby made a range of tactical tweaks and substitutions that helped swing the balance of the game in her side’s favour in the second 30 minutes of this encounter.
Having already made two changes to her Starting VII, Thirlby brought on the likes of Drakeford-Lewis and Clarke who gave her the reaction she was after. The coach also had to deal with an injury to defender Geva Mentor which forced her on and off the court throughout the break.
Thirlby watched her side lose all three games to the same opposition last October and, despite still seeing room for improvement, was happy that her team stayed in the game. She have her reaction after the final whistle.
“I’m really pleased. There has been so much learning taking on board in such a short space of time from players who maybe were slightly off their best on Monday. I think the areas we worked on really came through this evening so I’m really pleased,” she said.
[I was pleased with] our possession game. I still felt like we had a shaky first quarter but our centre pass attack through to goal is 76 per cent which is brilliant for us. We hit so many targets. We got more turnovers than them and we scored off more turnovers finally. I think winning ball is one of our trademarks but we’ve been a bit wasteful previously. To see that get better quarter on quarter despite the number of changes the Ferns threw at us was really pleasing and all 12 went out this evening so we’ve got depth on our bench too.
“I didn’t want the game to run away from them because I knew that they had that second half performance in them and you saw the shackles come off. The attack just opened up and they were having so much fun in the second half which is rewarding to see because I see it in training. We still need to fix our start but we are certainly getting better at coming off half-time and making a difference in that third quarter.”
George Fisher started the game after missing out on the VII in the opening fixture. The shooter plays her club netball for Southern Steel in New Zealand and had an assured game inside the circle, converting efficiently and troubling that Silver Ferns defence.
Fisher scored 45 goals with a success rate of 95.7 per cent and also provided one assist for her teammates. She was deservedly awarded Player of the Match by Sky Sports for her efforts and gave her reaction to them after the game.
“It was a hard fight out there. We were a little disappointed in our first performance so we wanted to go out there today and we pulled together. Serena [Guthrie] was growling at us in the changing room, geeing us all up so it was good to get out there and have a good fight again,” she said.
“With being a shooter, you can do all the work you want but the people in front of you bringing the ball down make you look good. The girls did amazing. Sophie [Drakeford-Lewis] came on and made a great impact. She was quick, she was fast, she watched the video and did exactly what we wanted. El [Cardwell] started out there and it [the substitution] was looking at something a little different with more speed rather than us tall girls holding.
“Sophie and I actually have been playing together for years. We started at U17 England together so it’s a comfort zone to us. We had the confidence to just let it go and cherish the ball that we were spilling in the first-half.”