Tomorrow the inaugural Vitality Nations Cup will kickstart with two highly anticipated match-ups: hosts England are set to go first against World Champions, New Zealand followed by a revenging Jamaica who will take on South Africa.
On the eve of the tournament, GiveMeSport Women sat down with the coaches and captains of each side, in turn, to discover what challenges they face; what they are hoping to achieve and ultimately, to get a sense of where their priorities lie.
Here's the low-down on what they said.
The Vitality Roses' head coach Jess Thirlby was keen to express that she was not daunted by the prospect of facing Noeline Taurua's Silver Ferns as a tournament opener: “If you’re going to go up against anyone you may as well get tested straight up I think."
With the tournament structured so that first and second, and third and fourth, play each other the day to determine an overall ranking, Thirlby pointed out that the stakes on tomorrow's game weren't so high: "Tomorrow’s game won’t define where we can be in a week’s time either. Whether we win, lose, tomorrow there’s still plenty of opportunities as the week progresses.
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On the players in her squad that are uncapped and have few caps Thirlby's hope for them was that they were able to relax into the game: "I get it, I understand at this level you are measured by results but I like to think we’re in a little bit of a period now that it isn’t just all about the outcome of games.
Since July, inclusive of the world Cup, we’ve exposed 27 players to a senior roses red dress and I think that’s quite an impressive stat when you talk about the first year of a cycle. But they’ve earned it as well.
Dorette Badenhorst, head coach of the SPAR Proteas, did not hesitate when asked what her ambitions were for the tournament, "I believe that we’ve got the team to win this series. If we can be good on the day, I believe strongly that we can take this one. We’ve got the players, we’ve got everything and I believe if we can play good netball on the day there is no one that can beat us.”
With South African talisman Karla Pretorius back in the Proteas' fold Badenhorst spoke with a great sense of pride about her defending unit, "It’s great to have Shadine back at wing defence as well and just that unit between van der Merwe, Pretorius and Phumza Maweni is just great. So I’m very excited."
Captain Bongi Msomi said that tomorrow's match against Jamaica was the one she was most looking forward to: "If you think of Jamaica and how they are; their pride and how they play, they’re obviously gunning to get on the court and give it to us. That actually pumps us. I think it is in us that the more it is challenging, the more we just want to go for it. It’s going to be a big game – it’ll be great actually.”
After heading into the World Cup ranked second in the world but finishing the tournament in fifth place, newly-appointed head coach Connie Francis and captain Jhaniele Fowler spoke a lot about their transformation process.
“We’ve learnt so much about ourselves and we’ve taken much away from the World Cup. It was a really hard one to swallow,” the 31-year-old captain shared, “but we’ve been rebuilding. We’ve been in a rebuilding phase, getting stronger and we have a new coach since then, we’ve had new players coming in.”
Assessing the challenges that lay ahead in England and South Africa Francis said that the Sunshine Girls’ ‘through court play’ is an area of concern for her against the Roses and as for South Africa, Francis was adamant, “I think that our girls are ready to take on the South African challenge.”
Master tactician Taurua wasted no time in breaking her competitors and the varying threats they pose.
“England is going to be exciting, or a challenge in itself. The last time that we played them we were playing for a grand final spot, whether there is going to be a bit of edge out there I don’t know. We’ve got no edge, we’re looking to perform. But if I was Jess I’d use that edge as much as possible to jimmy your team up, so we’ll be expecting that which is amazing really so we know that we’ll get them at full force.
As for Jamaica, the Silver Ferns’ coach dwelled on the technical challenge ahead: “We’ve got Jamaica next in Birmingham and the Caribbean way is really a massive elevation. They’ve got a bit of fire and they’re one of those teams that, even though we can’t equal them in height we’ve got to go with a huge attitude and our ability to keep the ball in hand is going to be big.”
And never one to underestimate any opponent Taurua remarked on the way the Proteas continue to go from strength-to-strength, “South Africa on our third match in London, they’ve been quiet achievers with Norma. Every year they’re just starting to chip away and starting to be one of those teams that are a force, they play a lovely game and once again the ability of each individual to do their job has been outstanding.”
Follow all the action from the Vitality Nations Cup here on GiveMeSport Women.