England have won silver at the Netball World Cup after reaching the World Cup final for the very first time in South Africa.
The Vitality Roses, who beat the world number one Australia and reigning champions New Zealand on route to the final, were ultimately defeated by the Australian Diamonds 61-45 who have followed up their Commonwealth Games gold medal with a world title.
England are the first team other than Australia and New Zealand to play in the World Cup final since 1995.
Vitality Roses starting seven: Geva Mentor (GK), Layla Guscoth (GD), Laura Malcolm (WD), Imogen Allison (C), Nat Metcalf (WA), Helen Housby (GA), Eleanor Cardwell (GS)
Substitutes: Jade Clarke, Funmi Fadoju, Chelsea Pitman, Olivia Tchine, Francesca Williams
Australia starting seven: Courtney Bruce (GK), Jo Weston (GD), Ash Brazill (WD), Paige Hadley (C), Liz Watson (WA), Steph Wood (GA), Cara Koenen (GS)
Substitutes: Sunday Aryang, Kiera Austin, Sophie Garbin, Sarah Klau, Jamie-Lee Price
There were early nerves as a ball was thrown out of play giving the Australian Diamonds the first turnover of the game. Eleanor Cardwell helped to get her side onto the scoreboard, putting up the Roses’ first goal in response. Geva Mentor, playing in her final game on the international stage, came close to stopping Cara Koenen under the post but the Diamonds shooter reached out to collect the high feed under the post. A few moments later, Housby tried to find Cardwell at the back of the circle but as she reached for the ball, she just stepped over the line. The Diamonds took advantage as Liz Watson and Koenen showed great chemistry to swing the ball between each other across the circle. With just over five minutes left in the quarter, Fran Williams was brought into the game for Layla Guscoth at goal defence and immediately helped to pick up a turnover as England forced the Diamonds into a mistake on the attack. Soon after, the Roses had another. Allison showed great athleticism to make a flying intercept as the Diamonds tried to play it down the line. At the end of the first quarter, the score was set at 13 goals apiece.
Australia reclaimed their advantage a couple of minutes into the second quarter. Allison and Housby tried to play a one-two on the edge of the circle but Jo Weston anticipated the pass and flew through to make the intercept. Their organised defensive structure meant England had to be patient in their build-up play and pick their moments to find players in the pockets and take the ball to goal. Earlier in the week, Diamonds Head Coach Stacey Marinkovich limited the changes in the attacking third but midway through the second quarter, Sophie Garbin, who’s scored the most goals between the two teams, was switched in for Koenen. The Diamonds almost had a chance to double their advantage after gaining a turnover but Williams again came through to counter their attack with an intercept at the front of the circle. But with just over a couple of minutes left, the Diamonds did stretch their lead as Courtney Bruce flew out in front of Clarke in the corner to force an intercept. Australia took the ball to goal and took the quarter 14-10, cementing a four-goal lead at the break.
At half time Head Coach Jess Thirlby changed the defensive end as Funmi Fadoju came on at goal keeper whilst Guscoth and Allison were reintroduced at goal defence and wing defence respectively. Looking to avenge their defeat to the Vitality Roses earlier in the week, the Diamonds came out firing for the second half and picked up two immediate turnovers as they stretched the score to 34-26. Mentor made her return to court and helped the Roses to force a much-needed turnover to cut the deficit. The Australian defence continued to put pressure on England in attack and forced England to stall as they were penalised for held ball. In need of some inspiration, Cardwell produced a brilliant piece of skill on the backline as she took the ball low before propping up the shot on one foot. A couple of minutes from the final break, Chelsea Pitman came on for Metcalf as England looked to freshen up their attack. By the end of the third quarter, Australia had established a 10-goal advantage.
As England looked to win more ball to overturn the deficit, Fadoju was reintroduced back into the game at goal defence. But the Diamonds, playing full of confidence after a strong third quarter, pressed again and picked up a deflection in the middle before Kiera Austin, who had injected lots of pace in the attack since the second quarter, put up goal number 50. The Diamonds almost had another, but a vital tip from Pitman sent the Vitality Roses back towards goal. England’s wing attack was forced to come off soon after as she picked up some blood on her knee but she quickly returned to the action. Whilst the Roses tried to find inroads back into the game, the Diamonds’ strong defensive unit prevented England from making any quick routes to goal. As time ticked down, the 11-time champions stood firm as they pushed on to take a 61-45 victory.
Player of the Match: Kiera Austin
Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby commented: “I am incredibly proud, despite the final result. We absolutely deserved to be there. We had to battle to get there and it's just proven to us that you've got to be able to go again in a big game against the number one and we just fell short today.
“We're obviously going to be gutted with a losing margin like that in our first final but such as the difference between a team that has been in 12 of them and a team that have just broken into their first one. It's a tough lesson of course, but over the next three days, I'm sure it will sink in, in terms of that history that we’ve made."
Eleanor Cardwell added: “There are so many positives. This is my first World Cup and for a lot more of the girls it's their first World Cup and it's everyone’s first World Cup final.
“Last year at the Commonwealth Games we came fourth and it was heartbreaking. Now, it’s heartbreaking that we haven’t won gold but we’ve got silver and we can be really happy with ourselves and what we’ve done over the past 10 days.”