After a closely contested opening match which saw the Silver Ferns beat the Uganda She Cranes 65-60, the Vitality Roses faced the Origin Australian Diamonds in a rematch of the 2023 Netball World Cup final.
The match was closely fought with the lead swinging both ways throughout, but it was the Origin Diamonds who came out on top with a final score of 59-61.
Paige Hadley was the Vitality Player of the Match, notching up 23 feeds across her time spent on court, whilst Helen Housby celebrated picking up her 100th cap for the Vitality Roses.
The Diamonds got the game underway with the first centre pass which Razia Quashie was able to disrupt with an early tip, but it wasn’t enough to prevent an Australian goal. Eleanor Cardwell slotted the Vitality Roses’ first goal of the game and the two teams were difficult to separate, with some exciting defensive plays coming from both sides. Cardwell’s trademark claw action saved a ball from going off the backline, much to the delight of the Wembley crowd. A short pass call in the Diamonds’ favour allowed them to establish a three-goal lead and the Vitality Roses’ attacking end had to use plenty of patience to find a route to goal amongst tight Australian defence. Courtney Bruce put her experience to good use, flying out of the circle for an intercept, as the Diamonds extended their lead to five goals. As the quarter drew to a close, Cardwell created some great space in the circle to receive another fantastic feed from Imogen Allison, and a footwork call from Australian captain Liz Watson prevented the Diamonds from adding another goal, so the quarter ended 13-18 in favour of the Origin Diamonds.
Both coaches chose not to make any changes going into the second quarter, and it was Australia Head Coach Stacey Marinkovich who was rewarded first for this decision, with goal keeper Bruce opening the play with another intercept. A loose ball then flew off the Vitality Roses’ back line, and the Diamonds were able to stretch their lead out to nine goals. Quashie then picked up a perfectly timed intercept, flying out of the circle and raising a huge cheer from the crowd. Cardwell converted this crucial gain, and the deficit was reduced to seven. Another brilliant pick up from captain Fran Williams followed, and thanks to some slick shooting from centurion Helen Housby, the Vitality Roses narrowed the scoreline further to 18-23. The two teams settled into a rhythm on court, and there was a period of goal-for-goal play which kept fans in the arena on the edge of their seats. Sunday Aryang replaced Jo Weston at goal defence, but it was the Vitality Roses' defence who came out with the next win. Quick ball movement around the circle in the Vitality Roses' attacking end, resulted in another goal before Quashie skilfully disrupted an Australian pass, putting England back in possession of the ball. Cardwell scored the next two goals, taking the scoreline at the end of the quarter to 28-33.
Marinkovich began the third quarter with more changes, whilst Jess Thirlby decided to stick with her starting seven. Kate Moloney came onto court at wing defence, with Jamie-Lee Price moving to centre and Paige Hadley heading to the bench. The quarter began with a loose pass slipping through Housby’s fingers, which the Diamonds took straight down the court, adding another goal to their tally. Quashie responded quickly, tipping the ball out of the reach of Sophie Garbin. More great defence was on show at the other end of the court with Aryang earning her team a turnover and Price putting her body on the line to keep the ball in play for the Diamonds. Another heroic intercept from Quashie followed, and the Vitality Roses closed the gap to four goals, with a scoreline of 31-35. Allison then picked up a stray ball on the edge of the circle and delivered it to the safe hands of Cardwell. Suddenly, the deficit was down to just two goals at 33-35. Buoyed by the cheers of the crowd, the Vitality Roses carefully carried the ball through court, scoring yet another goal and forcing a range of Australian changes. Bruce was replaced by Sarah Klau at goal keeper and Keira Austin entered the game whilst Sophie Dwyer headed to the bench. These changes made an immediate impact, with Australia scoring the next two goals to draw level at 36-36. After a missed shot from the Diamonds’ shooters, Williams picked up the rebound, Cardwell scored and the home side went one ahead. Tight defence from Australia continued to make life difficult in the Vitality Roses’ shooting circle and Housby missed a vital shot, giving the Diamonds another chance to attack. More changes came, with Cara Koenen replacing Garbin at goal shooter and Hadley replacing Watson at wing attack. As the teams continued to battle goal-for-goal, a held ball call against England allowed Australia to draw level once again. With the score at 42-42, Bruce re-entered the game, this time at goal defence. England earnt another turnover and Cardwell converted leaving the score at 45-43 as the whistle blowed signalling the end of the quarter.
Neither team made any changes heading into the final 15 minutes of the match. The quarter continued at a fast pace as Klau picked up a rebound early on, allowing the Diamonds to equalise and then reclaim the lead on their following centre pass. Price then intercepted the ball on the Vitality Roses’ centre pass, and the Diamonds hit 50 goals, opening up a two-goal gap. Halimat Adio took to the court in place of Quashie, whilst Housby continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over for England, as did the Australian shooting pair of Koenen and Austin. The scoreline continued to switch from a one- to two-goal deficit for the Vitality Roses, with neither team able to create a much-needed turnover. Amy Carter headed to the bench and Funmi Fadoju was brought on at wing defence as Vitality Roses Head Coach Thirlby looked for her team to get their hands on some vital turnover ball. With two minutes left, the score was 57-59 with just one turnover needed to turn the result around. Despite an impressive deflection from Fadoju, the Diamonds were able to hold onto possession of the ball, denying the Vitality Roses the opportunity to take the win, and the game ended 59-61 to the Australian Diamonds.
Discussing the Origin Diamonds’ fight back in the final quarter, Vitality Roses Head Coach Thirlby said: “You’ve got to expect a Diamonds team to respond, they know how to win. We are wanting to win, we believe we can win, we are here to win. I think today you saw more of that and that is super pleasing. Does it hurt? Yes. But I think our best today was excellent and there is a lot to be proud of that we can bank, we will be back.”
She added: “It was brilliant that we found more turnover today against an Australian side, because we know how hard that is and we rewarded most of that. But there were just moments, missed shots and a few passing errors, and those are the things we really need to just keep working and getting rid of out of our game.”
The Vitality Roses will be back in action on Saturday 27 January to face the Silver Ferns at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Limited tickets are still available here and all the action can be watched live on Sky Sports Mix and YouTube from 14:00 for UK fans, and NetballPass (worldwide, excluding the UK, Australia and New Zealand). All England games can also be listened to live on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra.
Vitality Roses starting seven: Razia Quashie (GK), Fran Williams (GD), Amy Carter (WD), Imogen Allison (C), Nat Metcalf (WA), Helen Housby (GA), Eleanor Cardwell (GS)
Substitutes: Halimat Adio, Funmi Fadoju, Sasha Glasgow, Hannah Joseph, Berri Neil
Origin Diamonds starting seven: Courtney Bruce (GK), Jo Weston (GD), Jamie-Lee Price (WD), Paige Hadley (C), Liz Watson (WA), Sophie Dwyer (GA), Sophie Garbin (GS)
Substitutes: Sunday Aryang, Keira Austin, Sarah Klau, Cara Koenen, Kate Moloney