England fought off the reigning champions New Zealand to claim a dramatic 46-40 victory in Cape Town, reaching their first-ever World Cup gold medal match.
After three quarters with nothing to separate the two sides, the Vitality Roses held their nerve to grind out the win in the final minutes and avenge their semi-final defeat to the Silver Ferns back at the 2019 World Cup.
England’s best result at a World Cup came in 1975 when they won silver in the round-robin format tournament and now, after their first win against New Zealand in five semi-final meetings, England will take on either Australia or Jamaica tomorrow for a first-ever gold medal, live on the BBC and Sky Sports.
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
New Zealand starting seven: Kelly Jury (GK), Phoenix Karaka (GD), Karin Burger (WD), Kate Heffernan (C), Gina Crampton (WA), Ameliaranne Ekenasio (GA), Maia Wilson (GS)
Substitutes: Madeline Gordon, Tiana Metuarau, Te Paea Selby-Ricket, Whitney Souness, Jane Watson
Helen Housby settled early nerves with the first goal of the game before New Zealand made their response with some patient play. 6ft 5 Kelly Jury, coming in at goal keeper for the Silver Ferns, came out hunting from the back and won the ball but her side were unable to capitalise on the break. But they did take the first advantage of the game midway through the quarter after Karin Burger made an intercept on the sideline. Laura Malcolm, making her 60th appearance for the Vitality Roses, tried to find Cardwell from deep in the midcourt but her long ball flew over the shooter. As the Silver Ferns looked to capitalise, England defender Layla Guscoth forced a turnover in response, getting up high to make the tip. A couple of minutes later, her defensive partner Geva Mentor drove in front of Maia Wilson under the post to cut out the feed from the Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio. England’s attacking end were put under a lot of pressure by the New Zealand defence who picked up 12 penalties in the first quarter. After the first 15 minutes, the score was level at 9-9.
There were no changes from either side after the first break. Early after the restart Phoenix Karaka caught her teammate Burger off guard as the ball rebounded out of play. Neither side were able to settle as end-to-end turnovers followed. New Zealand captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio was caught out hesitating in the attacking third and Imogen Allison picked up the stray pass on the edge of the defensive third to help England take a three-goal lead. The Silver Ferns continued to struggle to break down England’s well-organised defence, as they had to be very patient in attack. Layla Guscoth continued from where she left off in quarter one and made a great tip into the hands of Mentor as England went on the attack again. Just under a minute before halftime, Housby was penalised for held ball as the Silver Ferns came back again to level the scores to 20-20.
The Vitality Roses’ most-capped player Jade Clarke came on at the break in place of Allison as Head Coach Jess Thirlby made the first change of the game. A minute into the second half Ekenasio looped her shot high from distance but saw her effort bounce off the rim as Mentor picked up the rebound, giving England an early turnover. Soon after coming on, Clarke forced a brilliant turnover but Housby was penalised for attacking contact in the move that followed. Going goal-for-goal, both sides were patient in their attacking play as the tension in the quarter grew. With five minutes left, Fran Williams was brought on at wing defence, as Guscoth made way. New Zealand took advantage again soon after as Kelly Jury flew out from the back to intercept the feed from Metcalf. But England fought back again as Clarke produced another superb intercept as Housby sank the leveller just before the buzzer.
Allison returned at centre in place of Clarke as New Zealand remained unchanged. England were given an early opportunity as Wilson was called for her first attacking contact of the game on Mentor. Cardwell took the ball under the post and sank the shot as the Vitality Roses went three goals ahead. The Silver Ferns picked up a misplaced pass from Allison and after a couple of minutes of build-up eventually got the ball under the post and brought the score level. But with just four minutes to go, Fran Williams, who got the crucial tip in the last match against Australia, flew out to make a clean intercept to deny Gina Crampton before Allison made a diving intercept on the other side of the court as England reclaimed the advantage with two minutes to go. As the clock ticked down, the Roses crowd raised the volume as the Vitality Roses raced to victory.
Player of the Match: Fran Williams
Head Coach Jess Thirlby commented after the game: “I think to overcome Australia and then to be able to play a game of that nature and finish with a six-goal win against the reigning world champions and the number two ranked team, I think the mental side of our game has massively shifted.
“When I got the job in August 2019, we had a Zoom call and one of the things I said was I wanted to help take us where no Roses team has gone before, and that for us was a World Cup final. It has been four years in the making and so it feels brilliant that we've gone on a journey and been patient.”
Goal shooter Eleanor Cardwell added: “I think we had the edge throughout the whole game but it was just about us being clinical. As soon as we got that turnover it was about not having a rush of blood and launching a pass. We just had to keep it calm, do the work, do the short balls and it will finally open up.”
Player of the Match, Fran Williams, who came on late to make a crucial intercept said: “I just treat it as a privilege and an opportunity for me to go out and pick up the ball that these girls have put the groundwork in for.
“These are the games you want to play and you thrive in. That's why I'm an athlete - I love competition. I'm super competitive and I think just staying calm under pressure is something that I really enjoy and the grind of a game like that going goal for goal, you have to take it in your stride and embrace that challenge.”
All of the games from the Netball World Cup are being shown live on Sky Sports, with one match per day available to all on Sky Sports YouTube. The BBC will have live coverage of matches from Monday 31 July up to and including the final across BBC Television, iPlayer, Sounds and the BBC Sport website.
The Vitality Roses will now play in the final, live on the BBC and Sky Sports. They will learn who their opponents will be later today when Jamaica take on Australia in a re-match of last year’s Commonwealth Games final.
You can watch the highlights from this match here: https://youtu.be/6tQJAUhtDhU