After beating the Vitality Netball Superleague All Stars 55-43 in the closing match of the series, the Vitality Roses secured the Jean Hornsby Cup on Sunday night.
Facing an increasingly physical side, the Roses took on a fierce battle, aiming to display a solid performance across all four quarters of the match. Eager to also leave their mark on the series however, the All Stars had other ideas, stealing the second quarter from the home side and pushing them to the line in the fourth.
Head Coach Jess Thirlby praised the All Stars’ determination and ability to push her side to their limits, noting the importance of such endeavours to the Roses’ development: “We were pleased with the start tonight. In the second and fourth quarter it won’t be difficult to tell we spilt too much ball in those quarters and really allowed the All Stars to accelerate on us, which is great but by then we wanted to be pushed and it’s a good reminder that we need to tidy up.”
Rotating her bench throughout the series, Thirlby expressed her need to try new combinations out on court ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games: “I think the players that have taken to the court have been able to back up if not improve the performance of the quarter before them.
“I think the decisions are being made much more now based on people’s performances and that they’ve earned the right to get out there, as well as there still being a few combinations that we needed to see.
“Obviously with Helen back for this series and Layla back in the fold and Beth, there’s new combinations and things that need to be reconnected there, so it was important that I paid attention to that and then afforded some combinations to go back out.”
Despite facing a line-up of familiar faces from the Vitality Netball Superleague, young Team Bath goal attack Sophie Drakeford Lewis confirmed that preparation for an international is the same regardless of the opposition.
“I think for us we still prep the same way that we’re going to as if we’re facing New Zealand,” she said. “We weren’t meeting a side where there was a specific style and specific players but then that brought more challenges to us and so I think nerves wise it was probably the same.
“We were just really excited to get out there and play some matches in the England dress. That’s always a privilege and there’s always nerves associated with that.”
After an impressive display off the bench in match two, Drakeford-Lewis earned herself a starting spot in the final match of the series.
She said: “I think for me it was a special moment to be able to start the last game and it obviously comes with different challenges.
“You have a different role to play within the squad, but I was just really excited about being able to start and just get out there from the first whistle and experience the physicality from the start.”
Commenting on the team’s development throughout the series, she added: “I definitely think we’ve just grown in confidence throughout the series as a squad and I’m really looking forward to that continuing in the next couple of internationals.”
With just over a year to go until the Commonwealth Games, Thirlby commented on the value in testing her squad against quality international sides.
“I think it is important, obviously we’ve had six matches in this international window, three against the world champions and three against a team of people from around the world,” she said. “So, six lots of 60 minutes isn’t much, but it’s been a lot more than a lot of other international sides. So, I need to make sure I’m using those but also this series was about win after win and backing that up, so the changes that have been made have been made with the intention and the confidence that they can still do a job.”
Thirlby also added that the importance of observing the development of the Roses players, through their upcoming time with their Vitality Netball Superleague and Suncorp Super Netball teams, was key in narrowing down her squad selection ahead of the 2022 games in Birmingham.
“I think in terms of getting closer to the 12, well I’m not there yet but I’m in a really great position where I’ve got a number of people that are hitting some of the benchmarks that I think are needed for us to be able to get anywhere close to retaining that gold next year.
“So, the hope will obviously be that these players can get back out, get court time in their SSN clubs and Superleague and I can kind of sit back from that and just observe their improvement, because it is important that they improve, even in this window, without being in a Roses camp.
“Then the hope will be that later in the year we can obviously test ourselves again against some of the best nations in the world and really by that point you know it will start to be fine tuning.”
Not ready to share her ideal final 12, Thirlby added: “I’m not concerned about naming my 12 now, if anything I feel like we’re in a much better place, I don’t think we’ve got a weakness, I don’t think we’ve got weak players.
“So, I think it’s just going to be a case of who grows across Superleague and grows across SSN. This is giving me a lot of information as to where there are some intuitive and connections between certain partnerships and combinations which is really helpful in that process.”
If you missed any of the action, you can catch up on all three matches now via the Sky Sports YouTube channel.
A huge thank you to everyone for making the Vitality Netball Legends Series happen and the continued support from all of our partners during these challenging times.