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 with each of these compelling contests will be shown live on Sky Sports Mix and will 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-look 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.
Thirlby has selected a squad of 14 (including two training partners) which she hopes will encapsulate the look towards the future and the need to win competitive matches in the present.
The former Team Bath head coach had quite a selection headache following success at Netball Europe Open, a productive behind-closed-doors tour of Oceania and weeks spent in camp with those currently involved in the Roses Full-Time Programme.
The squad selection came after many weeks of camp in Loughborough and a three-week long camp experience in Sedbergh during the summer. Following this, the selected group and their head coach are raring to represent their country once again.
“We’re really excited. I think we’ve actually 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 team left for South Africa last Saturday and have already started preparing for the three-match series over in the southern hemisphere. The squad is full of talented young players ready to stake their claim at the start of this new four-year cycle for the national side.
The Vitality Roses’ 14-strong squad selected for the series is as follows:
|Natalie Haythornthwaite (C)
|Laura Malcolm (VC)
|Gabriella Marshall (training partner)
|Summer Artman (training partner)
South Africa’s 14-strong squad selected for the series is as follows:
|Shadine van der Merwe
Subsequently, the squad has a fresh feel to it under Thirlby who has had previous experience of developing younger players during her previous position as England U21 head coach. This has translated to a positive, inclusive environment during camp.
“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 the captain Natalie Haythornthwaite and vice-captain Laura Malcolm; both of whom have had years of experience of representing the Vitality Roses at varying levels of competition.
Behind 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 another in the preliminary stages and the third-place play-off at the M&S Bank Arena.
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 there 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. The competition once again provides an opportunity to challenge the best teams on the planet.
“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 2021 and more so Cape Town in three years time, there will be periods in each of our cycles that we need to win when it matters most. I’m really looking forward to VNNC and hopefully we can get into that final.”
The Vitality Roses will in action in South Africa on the following dates:
|29 November 2019
|30 November 2019
|1 December 2019
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.
This will be the Vitality Roses’ last tournament before they play New Zealand, Jamaica and South Africa in the Vitality Netball Nations Cup on home soil in January 2020. Tickets are available to purchase here.