Jess Thirlby previews test series with South Africa

The Vitality Roses are set to begin their test series against South Africa at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town this weekend.

In their first televised fixtures since the Vitality Netball World Cup, Jess Thirlby’s side will face the SPAR Proteas on three occasions over three days.

The two teams will go head-to-head on November 29, November 30 and December 1. Each of these compelling contests will be shown live on Sky Sports Mix and will also be free to watch on the broadcaster’s official YouTube channel with coverage beginning 30 minutes before first centre pass.

Fans will get to see the return of a fixture that was particularly prevalent during this summer’s Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool, where the two sides met twice during the preliminary stages and the bronze medal match.

However, both sides will be bringing new-looking squads to the Bellville Velodrome at the start of another four-year cycle, which builds towards the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and the next Netball World Cup in 2023.

The former Team Bath Head Coach has had an exciting few months since her appointment, with success at Netball Europe Open, a productive behind-closed-doors tour of Oceania and weeks spent in camp, both in Sedbergh and Loughborough, with those currently involved in the Full-Time Roses Programme.

Thirlby and the selected squad of 14 (including two training partners) for this series are raring to represent their country once again.

“We’re really excited. We’ve just finished a really decent block of camp-based training. We’ve had five weeks together off the back of a really important Australia and New Zealand experience as well,” said Thirlby.

“I can’t fault the athletes in terms of their training ethic, their intensity and how they have bought into everything we have been doing. They’ve been great. We’re in as good a position as we can be heading into our first big competition this year.”

The Vitality Roses’ 14-strong squad selected for the series is as follows:

George Fisher Natalie Haythornthwaite (C) Stacey Francis
Eleanor Cardwell Jade Clarke Kate Shimmin
Kadeen Corbin Laura Malcolm (VC) Fran Williams
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis Natalie Panagarry Razia Quashie
Gabriella Marshall (training partner) Summer Artman (training partner)


South Africa’s 15-strong squad selected for the series is as follows:

Ine-Marí Venter Lenize Potgieter Renske Stoltz
Lefébre Rademan Sigi Burger Bongi Msomi
Izette Griesel Romé Dreyer Khanyisa Chawane
Kgomotso Itlhabanyeng Phumza Maweni Shadine van der Merwe
Zanele Vimbela Monique Reyneke Precious Mthembu

The squad have been busy preparing to face South Africa with training, recovery and gym sessions, as well as some match play against Western Cape Southern Strings of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League since arriving in Cape Town.   

“The group is amazing, the atmosphere is great and the environment is really positive. The players have really been embracing everything in our camps. It’s obviously been a journey for both me and for them but I’ve loved collaborating with the staff and the player group,” she said.

“We’re building a really nice relationship where the players feel the environment is an open one where they feel they can be honest and feel listened to. We’ve also developed a leadership group which everyone has embraced.

“In that sense, I’m really pleased because of having that time in Sedbergh and spending that time overseas [in Australia and New Zealand] as well. We will hopefully start to see the benefits of that as we head into a big test and challenge.”

The leadership group is fronted by captain Natalie Haythornthwaite and vice-captain Laura Malcolm; both of whom have had years of experience representing the Vitality Roses at varying levels of competition.

With them are the likes of Jade Clarke, the national team’s most-capped player, and Stacey Francis, who made her debut in 2010, who each help to inject that required dose of experience to the youthful energy that other members of the squad bring.

Fran Williams, 21, and Razia Quashie, 22, also help make up the squad which includes six players under the age of 24.

“For me, the crux to developing a winning side always comes in that mix of experience and youth. It’s been absolutely fantastic to welcome Nat [Haythornthwaite] and Jade [Clarke] into the group and to add to what we’ve already been working on.

“It’s a testament to this particular player group that it’s been seamless welcoming back any athletes that were able to get selected for the South Africa series. One of the things I’m most proud of is that there’s a contribution from everyone regardless of age, stage, or number of caps.

“There’s no dependency on those [more experienced] players. In that way, we get the best out of them because we’re not leaning on them but we absolutely embrace the experience that they add.”

South Africa were tough opposition at the most recent Vitality Netball World Cup with the two sides coming up against one another in the preliminary stages and the third-place play-off at the M&S Bank Arena.

Panagarry, Clarke and Williams all faced South Africa at the Netball World Cup. Source | SWPix.
Panagarry, Clarke and Williams all faced South Africa at the Vitality Netball World Cup. Source | SWPix.

South Africa are now led by Head Coach Dorette Badenhorst and have lost both Maryka Holtzhausen to retirement and Karla Pretorius to a break from international netball.

“We’re going out there to win and I believe in this group of players. I’m focusing very much on who is here and I think we’ve got a fantastic mix of experience and youth. There is a real appetite amongst them to get out on court and to see where we are.

“We’re under no illusion. It’s going to be a really tight test series. South Africa have retained a large bulk of their players – albeit Karla Pretorius and Maryka Holtzhausen aren’t available – but we too are a very different looking side.

“Based on what I’ve seen when welcoming players back into the programme in the last few weeks, it’s going to be a really exciting test series. It’s going to be close but I do genuinely believe we are taking a team that can win the series.”

Following the series, the Vitality Roses will turn their attention to the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in Nottingham, Birmingham and London in January 2020.

They will once again face the SPAR Proteas as well as Jamaica and New Zealand in front of their home supporters during the upcoming series.

“What better place to be in terms of getting a real challenge before we come up against the current world champions in New Zealand, who we know are going to bring a strong squad as will South Africa and Jamaica. It’s a really great period for us,” said Thirlby.

“One of the things that I’m trying to help this group with is helping them to win when it matters most. Whilst we throw forward to Birmingham in 2021 and more so Cape Town in three years, there will be periods in each of our cycles that we need to win when it matters most. I’m really looking forward to the Vitality Netball Nations Cup and hopefully we can get into that final.”

The Vitality Roses will be in action in South Africa on the following dates:

Date Starting time
29 November 2019 17:00
30 November 2019 13:00
1 December 2019 11:00


You can watch the excitement unfold live on Sky Sports and keep up to date with all the news from the series via the England Netball Twitter account.

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