Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby named a largely unchanged starting seven from the one that finished so successfully against the Silver Ferns on Sunday, with Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth partnering in the defensive circle, England’s most capped player Jade Clarke at C, captain Serena Guthrie at WD and Helen Housby in at GA; with the only change at GS, as Ellie Cardwell returned to the starting seven.
Origin Diamonds Head Coach Stacey Marinkovich led with Cara Koenan at GS, Steph Wood at GA, Liz Watson at WA, Jamie Lee Price at C, Ash Brazill at WD, Jo Weston at GD and Sarah Klau at GK.
The Roses started as they left off in the previous game, breaking down the first Diamonds centre pass and, after a tense opening two minutes, putting two unanswered goals on the scoresheet. A flying intercept from captain Guthrie at WD gave the home side an early 3-0 lead.
The circle defenders for both teams applied the pressure, with Klau coming up with three important early intercepts for the Diamonds and Usoro-Brown and Guscoth forcing Koenen out of the circle. The Roses double defence on the Diamonds GS, however, was disrupted by Wood’s ability to find space and open up the baseline, meaning the Diamonds drew the score back to lead by 4-3.
As the scoreline stretched to 7-10 in the Diamonds favour, the home crowd began to drive their team forwards, roaring as Usoro-Brown made two crucial turnovers in the Diamonds shooting circle.
With the first quarter ending 12-9, both coaches looked to the bench for the second as Kate Moloney replaced Brazill, Beth Cobden took the court at WD and Guthrie moved out to C.
Wood continued to carve up space through the mid court, her straight drives proving challenging for the Roses defence, while at the other end the home team struggled to find space in the circle as NSW Swifts teammates Housby and Klau battled for space in the shooting circle.
As the Diamonds broke down one of the Roses centre passes, Thirlby gave a nod to the bench and Laura Malcolm took the court at WA. The dynamic midcourter linked with her Manchester Thunder teammate Cardwell and lifted the team, with Cardwell gaining a crucial attacking intercept and Usoro-Brown forcing a held ball from the Diamonds shooters at the other end. At the end of the second quarter Cardwell sank a shot on the buzzer that awed the crowd but was ultimately ruled out, ending the first half 23-19 to the Diamonds.
Marinkovich shuffled the deck in the third quarter with Sophie Garbin coming on at GS, Gretel Bueta at GA and Sunday Aryang at GD, while for the Roses Geva Mentor returned to GK and Housby and Cardwell switched roles.
Cardwell began finding Housby comfortably under the post, while Mentor closed off the drives of Bueta into the circle. While the Diamonds continued to power through the court and keep the scoreboard ticking through Garbin, Malcolm found another gear, fighting hard to get to the top of the circle and setting up Cardwell, who sank a long range shot to draw the score level.
As England moved up through the gears, so did Australia; both teams began using their full range of elevation, with Bueta, Guthrie and Guscoth all drawing gasps from the crowd. As the quarter drew to a close, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis ran on at WA with Malcolm dropping to C and the Roses found new timing from their centre pass, letting the ball go into Housby easily while at the other end, the Bueta/Garbin combination continued to pay dividends with the score ending 38-32 to the Diamonds.
As the fourth quarter started, the speed of Drakeford-Lewis and Malcolm continued to carve up the Diamonds defence, with the pair getting great depth off the centre pass, bringing the Roses back to within two. The defensive trio of Cobden, Guscoth and Mentor joined forces to gain three crucial turnovers, bringing the Copper Box Arena crowd alive as the Roses flew through court with methodical timing. A long range pass from Malcolm threaded the needle to Housby to draw the Roses level, but the acrobatics of Bueta kept the Diamonds in contention at the other end.
With three minutes to go, Stacey Francis-Bayman took the court for the first time in the series and caused immediate issues for the Diamonds, matching Bueta for pace; for the Diamonds, however, the Melbourne Vixens pairing of Liz Watson and Kate Moloney worked hard in the midcourt to force the Roses into errors and Diamonds top scorer Sophie Garbin kept the score climbing, putting up 17 in total.
Mentor won a crucial intercept with less than two minutes on the clock and Drakeford-Lewis found Cardwell under the post, bringing the crowd to their feet; a win from Bruce took the ball away but the Diamonds made an error at the other end to give possession back to England.
As the clock counted down to zero, Housby reminded the London crowd of her ability to put clutch shots up under pressure, sinking a long shot to finish the match on a draw and set up an exhilarating clash for tomorrow.
Eleanor Cardwell was awarded Player of the Match, putting up 26 of the Roses' 48 goals.