A fresh-faced England side featuring four debutants held on for a dramatic 55-54 win in the opening game of the Taini Jamison Trophy in Christchurch.
With 56 caps amongst the squad, the Vitality Roses were unphased by the world- number two side and produced a brilliant second quarter before resisting some late pressure to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Named in honour of former Silver Fern Taini Jamison who was the first Māori coach of the national team and passed away earlier this year, this is the Vitality Roses’ third successive win in New Zealand since their last series win in 2021.
Shooter Sasha Glasgow scored 38 from 41 attempts on her England debut and was awarded Player of the Match for a stellar display under the post.
Vitality Roses starting seven: Halimat Adio (GK), Vicki Oyesola (GD), Amy Carter (WD), Elle McDonald (C), Hannah Joseph (WA), Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (GA), Sasha Glasgow (GS)
Substitutes: Alice Harvey, Berri Neil, Jayda Pechova, Ellie Rattu, Alicia Scholes
New Zealand starting seven: Kelly Jury (GK), Phoenix Karaka (GD), Karin Burger (WD), Kate Heffernan (C), Whitney Souness (WA), Ameliaranne Ekenasio (GA), Maia Wilson (GS)
Substitutes: Maddy Gordon, Tiana Metuarau, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Amelia Walmsley, Jane Watson
Elle McDonald got the game underway with the first centre pass and it was co-captain Sophie Drakeford-Lewis who put up the Vitality Roses’ first goal. Silver Ferns’ Captain Ameliaranne Ekanasio, one of four starters from New Zealand’s last match at the Netball World Cup, responded and was imperious under the post, firing in six goals in the opening six minutes as New Zealand established an early four-goal advantage. After some early nerves in her first outing in a Roses dress, Sasha Glasgow began to find her range and combined well with Drakeford-Lewis and McDonald using quick hands to move the ball with speed around the circle. As the Silver Ferns went long Maia Wilson tried to find a teammate on the edge of the circle from the goal line but Amy Carter, back in international action for the first time since 2020, before she suffered an ACL injury, stepped in to make the first intercept of the match. She followed this up a few minutes later with another tip off the Silver Ferns’ centre pass, finding her teammate McDonald as the Vitality Roses reduced the hosts’ advantage to two through good patient play. Just before the buzzer, Glasgow took aim from range and slotted in her fifth goal of the quarter to take the score to 13-12 in favour of the Silver Ferns.
Back in a Roses dress for the first time since the tour of New Zealand in 2020, Vicki Oyesola shot out from the back of the court to make a superb tip on the sideline as the Roses went searching for the leveller. The Silver Ferns responded and capitalised on a couple of misplaced passes to re-establish their four-goal lead. But the Vitality Roses kept their composure and stayed in touch. McDonald and Hannah Joseph stretched the court and found space in wide areas as they combined well with Glasgow and Drakeford-Lewis whose partnership grew as the game went on. With just over five minutes left in the quarter, the game swung in favour of England. A miscommunication between Maddy Gordon and Wilson under the post gifted the Vitality Roses a key turnover which saw them re-take the lead for the first time since the opening couple of minutes. Silver Ferns Head Coach Dame Noeline Taurua responded to this, bringing Wing Defence Karin Burger into the game in place of Kate Heffernan. More great defensive pressure from the England defensive unit with debutant and co-captain Halimat Adio, alongside Oyesola and Carter, forced Gordon into another unforced error and suddenly the Roses had a three-goal lead. In the ascendancy, England continued to put the pressure on the home side and by the end of the first half, they had taken the quarter 17-10 and had moved six goals ahead on the scoreboard.
Into the second half and the pressure on the New Zealand shooters continued as Adio gave Ekenasio, who moved into the goal shooter position, no time to take the ball quickly under the post. Meanwhile, at the other end, Glasgow showed incredible commitment, sliding over the goal line to take the ball from Joseph before throwing the ball to the circle edge as the Roses kept up the pressure on the scoreboard and moved a further two goals ahead. There were more changes from the New Zealand bench as Tiana Metuarau and Mila Reuleau-Buchanan joined the Ferns attack and Jane Watson came in at Goal Keeper. Vitality Roses Head Coach Liana Leota made her first change of the game with just under five minutes of the quarter left to play as Berri Neil came on for her England debut in place of Drakeford-Lewis. Burger got the home crowd on their feet as the third quarter came to a close making a flying intercept across the transverse line. The Silver Ferns began to cut back the Roses’ advantage and took the score to 37-43 before the final break.
Into the final 15 minutes and the hosts started quickly, putting England straight on their centre pass within seconds. Spurred on by the home fans, Burger got the Silver Ferns’ tails up with another big intercept on the England centre pass as they reduced the lead to just three. McDonald moved to the bench as Ellie Rattu came on for her third cap, taking the WD bib as Carter moved up into centre. Buoyed by another turnover in their defensive third, the hosts pressed again and turned the match into a one-goal game with just five minutes left to play. The Vitality Roses continued to play with freedom, letting go and swinging the ball across the court as they kept the scoreboard ticking over. With just three minutes left to play Liana Leota introduced another debutant, bringing in Alicia Scholes in place of Hannah Joseph. New Zealand continued to press but some wayward passes were punished by England. The Silver Ferns fought with the crowd roaring them on but England held onto the ball for the final 30 seconds to take a dramatic 55-54 win.
Speaking after the game, Head Coach Liana Leota said: “I wanted these girls to play with freedom. I didn't want them to look at the scoreboard and play. I think the result of the first half was them just playing our natural Roses' way and what we've been training.
“We've worked really hard over the last two weeks. I think we were confident with the ball in hand. With New Zealand’s structure, they take away space but I think we always saw an option and if we weren't comfortable giving the forward ball, we'd play patient to reset and go again.
“For us to bring Berri [Neil] and Liss [Alicia Scholes], they're two fearless players that don't hold back, for me it was just great to see them out there and the courage they had to let that ball go. I think that when you come on the international stage there is pressure, but for us in this group, we talked about playing with freedom, being confident, playing to our strengths, and bringing what is uniquely you, and that's all we ask from this team.”
Co-captain and debutant Halimat Adio commented: “We are a new group so we had to build those connections. We have new people coming into the team. This is Sasha's [Glasgow] debut as well so we had to build that connection with her. I've just come in from the World Cup, so I had to build a connection with the defensive unit. That was the main focus and we made sure we hammered it and narrowed it down and put it out on court.”
Sasha Glasgow added: “I'm stoked. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without these girls. A couple of shaky shots at the start, but we'll park them. I’m just really proud to be a Rose. This means so much to us as a group. We still have two more games to go, but not a bad way to start.”
The second test between the Vitality Roses and the New Zealand Silver Ferns takes place on Wednesday 27 September at 7:00am, live on Sky Sports Main Event, Mix and YouTube.