The stage was gloriously set at the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena. The sold-out crowd relished the display put on before them. Racing lights and thunderous music combined to create a palpitating atmosphere, which in its own way anticipated the action that followed.
Jamaica finally put to bed any lingering sense of doubt that might have surrounded them following their weak World Cup campaign in Liverpool. Demonstrating to all that for them, the past was firmly in the past they overcame South Africa: 59-54
Whilst Jamaica's head coach Connie Francis beamed with pride at the performances of the quintet of rookies she called up to join her side, Dorette Badenhorst of South Africa was left with a rather bothersome headache.
Her strategy of putting goal shooter Lenize Potgeiter in the goal attack bib was a gamble that did not pay off and was unquestionably the cause of South Africa’s unrecoverable, lacklustre start. The SPAR Proteas were then left on the back foot for most of the game and their last quarter surge was not enough to undo the deficit before them.
As for the day’s second match a well-conditioned New Zealand squad, all came on to the court to undo the Vitality English Roses in what was truly ‘a tale of two halves.’
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England came out fighting in the first half with the back trio of Kate Shimmin, Stacey Francis and Laura Malcolm putting in a big shift to quell the Ferns and their shooting flair. A strong judgement call from Jess Thirlby in the second quarter saw George Fisher come on and Kadeen Corbin come off paid and the decision paid dividends in helping keep the Roses within arms reach.
However, the second half was ill-disciplined affair from England and the well-oiled New Zealand machine put on a display of perfect netball execution, showing everyone why they deserve the title of World Champions (even without their older, more experienced players). The Ferns dismantled England to win with a margin so big that even Noeline Taurua was surprised: 64-48
That was then and this is now, and as all eyes turn to Birmingham here is what to look out for ahead of the second clash.
What to expect
The Sunshine Girls will once more take to the court first, but this time it will be the Silver Ferns they face. The last time these two sides met was at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 where Jamaica came out on top 60-55. Since then, of course, Taurua has taken over the reins and has transformed the Ferns into World Cup winners, but we can still expect a tentative, almost chess-like start to the game as these teams test each other out.
Jamaica’s immediate concern will be on their star defender Shamera Sterling who appeared to roll her ankle in the dying moments of the match against South Africa. There is no news yet as to the state of her injury but if it is unplayable, then Jamaican hopes of an upset against New Zealand will suffer a blow with Sterling offering so much height, reach and elevation in the defending bibs.
As for Jamaica’s priorities, for Francis, it is all about discipline. After Jamaica’s win over South Africa, the head coach shared: “We made some silly mistakes, especially in our attack. We have to tidy it up.”
Jamaica’s attacking end and their reliance on captain Jhaniele Fowler did not go unnoticed by the Ferns. Looking ahead to Birmingham Taurua said: “The thing with Jamaica is they’ve got their elevation game so the pressure that we put on our side has to be huge, otherwise they’re going to bomb it in.”
Optimistic, however, of their chances, Taurua then added: “There are things that we did really well that I know will combat them but it’s a totally different game. We just have to take it when it comes.”
Meanwhile, England, who is set to face South Africa, will be hoping that their recent test series win in November, in Cape Town can carry them to victory once again.
Whilst Thirlby ahead of the New Zealand game stated that it was not all about outcomes, there is a sense that anything other than a win tomorrow will open the new coach up to unwanted scrutiny – not least when it comes to her starting VII.
Corbin’s nightmare start and eventual benching showed the home crowd the strength of the combination in Eleanor Cardwell and Fisher. No doubt eyebrows will be raised if Thirlby does not reward their performances with starting positions against South Africa. Similarly in England’s defensive end, the goal defence and goalkeeper bibs seemed to be constantly switching around suggesting an indecisiveness. Does Thirlby know her strongest VII?
As for South Africa, whilst they struggled for the most part against Jamaica they surely will be drawing inspiration from their final quarter fightback ahead of their clash against the Roses. Crucially, unlike England, there are no players absent from the Proteas’ squad. With Karla Pretorius’ return, Badenhorst’s defensive unit is now whole once more and could threaten English chances of securing an important win.
Of course, if South Africa is to overcome the Roses they must find a solution to their goal attack problem which, after their Nottingham outing, will have been highlighted by all opponents as an area of weakness. It is certainly not a problem easily fixed and with only two days to address it can Badenhorst turn her team around in time?
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