Team England booked their place in the 2022 Commonwealth Games semi-finals on Tuesday night with an emphatic 56 – 35 victory over Uganda.
A highly physical encounter saw Jess Thirlby award every single player a cap in front of a 9000 strong sea of red and white clad fans who cheered and roared their way through every step of the action.
Team England starting seven: Geva Mentor (GK), Layla Guscoth (GD), Stacey Francis-Bayman (WD), Jade Clarke (C), Natalie Metcalf (WA), Helen Housby (GA), Eleanor Cardwell (GS).
Substitutes: Laura Malcolm, Imogen Allison, Sophie Drakeford Lewis, Eboni Usoro-Brown, Jo Harten
Uganda starting seven: Shaffie Nalwanja (GK), Joan Nampungu (GD), Sandra Ruth Nambirige (WD), Jesca Achan (C), Stella Oyella (WA), Irene Eyaru (GA), Proscovia Peace (GS).
Substitutes: Mary Nuba Cholhok, Norah Lunkuse, Margret Baagala, Muhammed Nakaate Haniisha, Shadiah Sseguijja Nassanga.
A ferocious start from both sides saw an immediately tense and fast battle on court. With Uganda vying for a top two finish and England looking to cement their current first place the match had all to play for. In response to an elated cry from her teammates on the bench, Layla Guscoth soon warmed up, stealing the incoming ball from the Vitality Netball Superleague top goal scorer in 2022, Proscovia Peace.
Through court, Jade Clarke chased down loose ball, delivering it safely back to her attacking side ready for lightning speed feeds from captain Nat Metcalf into Cardwell and Housby in the circle. Remaining calm and composed throughout, Housby recorded an impressive 100% shot success rate in an opening quarter that saw speed, physicality and a roaring crowd who were all left wanting more as the whistle sounded.
Much like the opening fifteen, the second quarter saw an increased intensity on court with every player fighting tooth and nail to turn the ball. Uganda stepped up a gear and quickly closed the gap to just three.
Nat Metcalf remained composed despite the increase in pressure and seized every opportunity to deliver the ball directly into Cardwell under the post. England’s through court defence came together to delay Uganda’s attack, with long spells of time before they could deliver the ball to post. After a tussle between Guscoth and Proscovia Peace, Uganda reeled their first changes with fellow VNSL shooter Mary Cholhok taking Peace’s place under the post. The opening half ended with England ahead by ten.
The second half saw Head Coach Jess Thirlby rotate the bench, with Jo Harten coming into the goal shooter spot and Ellie Cardwell stepping out at goal attack. Not yet comfortable, Thirlby also injected fresh legs into the mid court with Laura Malcolm at centre and the crowd soon saw a re-energised England side. Cracks started to appear for Uganda however, who had surprisingly changed their own shooting circle, leaving both Peace and Cholhok on the sidelines. England capitalised on an increased error rate from Uganda and the scoreboard soon began to surge. After experiencing a tough opening half, Cardwell who had experienced an extremely physical battle at goal shooter turned the game on it's head with her move to goal attack and the crowd were soon chanting her name, as she delivered long bombs to Harten under the post.
The final fifteen minutes saw changes in both shooting circles. Thirlby opted for the dynamic duo of Harten and Housby in Team England’s line-up whilst Uganda gave 6ft7 powerhouse Mary Cholhok the nod to return to court.
Receiving their second caution of the match, Uganda verged on the edge of a sending off and the nervousness that followed allowed England the chance to shine. With Francis-Bayman and Clarke returning to defence alongside Usoro-Brown, who made her first appearance in the match, England’s final switch up saw them push further ahead once more.
More than familiar with each other’s style of play, Harten cleared the circle, drawing her defenders with her, giving Malcolm the opportunity to send the ball straight to Housby, who with Harten’s movement found herself wide open under the post. The final seconds of the match then saw Uganda’s wing defence sent off the court for persistent contact and as the final whistle sounded, the crowd erupted. England’s 56 – 35 victory confirmed their place in a home semi-final clash.
Team England will enjoy a well-deserved day’s rest on Wednesday before looking ahead to their final group stage match which takes place on Thursday 4th August at 9pm versus New Zealand.
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