The Vitality Roses take on Uganda She Cranes in the opening match of the Vitality Netball International Series at Nottingham's Motorpoint Arena.
Alice Harvey, Olivia Tchine, Funmi Fadoju, Zara Everitt and Ellie Rattu all claimed their first senior caps whilst Chelsea Pitman returned to the international stage for the first time in two years as the Vitality Roses were forced to dig deep in the second half to come back and claim a win in the opening test.
Vitality Roses starting seven: Alice Harvey (GK), Francesca Williams (GD), Laura Malcolm (WD), Imogen Allison (C), Hannah Joseph (WA), Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (GA), Eleanor Cardwell (GS)
Substitutes: Zara Everitt, Funmi Fadoju, Chelsea Pitman, Ellie Rattu, Olivia Tchine
Uganda starting seven: Proscovia Peace (GK), Joan Nampungu (GD), Sandra Nambridge (WD), Margaret Baagala (C), Irene Erayu (WA), Shadia Nassanga (GA), Mary Cholhok (GS)
Substitutes: Viola Asingo, Haniisha Muhammad
The Vitality Roses made a swift start, showing lots of energy in the middle of the court as Hannah Joseph chased down an early interception before finding Sophie Drakeford-Lewis under the post. At the other end of the court, Harvey, stepping into the red dress for the first time, made an assured start to her senior England career alongside her Loughborough Lightning teammate Francesca Williams as the pair limited their club teammate and shooter Mary Cholhok to few opportunities under the post as Uganda struggled to find consistency in the final phase.
In the Vitality Roses’ shooting circle, Eleanor Cardwell found herself up against the unfamiliar sight of Surrey Storm shooter Proscovia Peace donning the GK bib for Uganda. Despite the challenge posed, Cardwell showed the composed form that she displayed at the Commonwealth Games, combining well with Drakeford-Lewis to help the Vitality Roses race to a 16-11 lead before the first break.
In the second quarter, the tables turned as the She Cranes showed why they are a team on the rise and sixth in the world as they cut the deficit and put the Vitality Roses under pressure.
Showing more drive and energy in the middle, the visitors managed to find more connections in the attacking end as England’s energy dropped. Cholhok showed why she is one of the most potent shooters in the Superleague as she spent more time under the post in this quarter. Cardwell tried to buoy the crowd midway through the second period but a persistent Uganda continued to push and came out on top of the quarter, winning 17-9 to take a 28-25 lead into the half-time interval.
Head Coach Jess Thirlby turned to the bench and rotated her seven, introducing Fadoju for her first minutes in place of Harvey. In the attacking end, Pitman was welcomed back onto court for the first time since the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in 2020 in place of Joseph and Tchine came on for her debut, replacing Drakeford-Lewis as Cardwell moved back to goal attack.
Soon into the second half, the changes helped the Vitality Roses return to the intensity shown in the first quarter as they pressed the She Cranes higher up, slowing down their build-up play.
With Cardwell moving into goal attack, the new Thunderbirds import became more involved in the Vitality Roses’ build-up and found herself in a physical battle with Joan Nampungu at times. Meanwhile her new teammate in the circle Tchine showed no signs of nerves as she displayed great composure, shooting at 100% to help the Vitality Roses retake the lead, with a 17-9 quarter of their own.
Co-captains for the series Imogen Allison and Laura Malcolm switched bibs and Everitt was brought in at wing defence for her first cap as the midcourters made it difficult for the She Cranes to find any rhythm. Just before the buzzer, Fadoju got the crowd on their feet with a neat intercept in the circle, showing the qualities that she put on display last season in the Superleague.
Into the final quarter and Thirlby made it five debutants for the Vitality Roses as she introduced Rattu into centre for Malcolm.
Settled after their third-quarter performance, Everitt showed flair, turning defence into attack as she fired the ball down the right-hand side into her new club teammate Pitman who chased it down and found Cardwell under the post. Meanwhile, Tchine continued to impress in the circle as she carried on where she left off at the end of the third quarter.
In the final moments, Drakeford-Lewis returned to court in place of Cardwell, who was greeted with a wave of cheers as she capped a solid display, winning Vitality Player of the Match.
The Vitality Roses return to action for the second test on Saturday 8 October as they head down to London for a weekend of back-to-back netball at the Copper Box Arena.
Tickets are still available for the second and third test – get yours here.
You can also watch the series on Sky Sports Mix and YouTube.