Australia showed why they are still the world’s best team after coming on strong to make it a convincing win over England in the Co-operative International Series maintaining their impressive test record against their great rivals. If you don’t count the weekend’s defeat in the Co-operative World Netball Series simply because it was Fast Net and not the full traditional game, then you have to go back to the early 80s to find the last England victory. Back then England’s head coach Sue Hawkins and her assistant Kendra Slawinksi were on opposing sides and squaring up on court, and as TV commentator Charlie Brougham notes in the Sky Sports coverage out of the England squad only Karen Atkinson and Sonia Mkoloma had been born.
All in all the meeting at the University of Bath Netball Centre meant a change of pace for those who had battled through the six minute quarters in Manchester. England took the first centre but were turned over early on by the strong Australian defence and it was the Diamonds who put the first goal on the board and attempted to bully their way into a lead. They were looking strong at 5-3 ahead but as the ball slipped through the net England woke up. Co-captain Sonia Mkoloma bellowing out defensive calls as she marshalled the impressive Aussie skipper Sharelle McMahon in the GA bib. McMahon is such a great athlete to watch, like many of our netball stars, one move in the first quarter saw her tumbling off court and yet still managed to turn, shoot and score. Jade Clark, England WD, had a big influence on the second part of the quarter with a number of key interceptions and with Louisa Brownfield finding the net with her shots the momentum swayed England’s way.
The second quarter had it all, England started three goals ahead, moved into a five point lead, were hauled back to level pegging before ending the fifteen minute period on the wrong end of a 25-27 scoreline. It should have been a consolidation of the good work from the first period and was frustrating to watch as a fan because the home side were looking so good, putting together some slick passages of play, but then so were the Australians and the Diamond’s lustre sparkled a little longer. It which made for fine entertainment for the packed crowd at the University of Bath Netball Centre who were merrily tootling on the endlessly irritating vuvuzelas that buzz so noisily (they are those giant kazoos that African football fans love so much).
A physically strong performance by the home side in the attacking circle helped build that five goal lead, it was two and a half minutes before the ball made it to Australian shooter. Karen Atkinson’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” inspired flying interception early on was one of the highlights of an impressive passage of play. Unfortunately it was shortly after that the team allowed mistakes to creep in which did not impress England head coach Sue Hawkins, “Error after error after error, they’ll turn it into a shot and you can’t afford to do that.” Failing to capitalise on the centre pass was also something the team will have to improve on according to Hawkins. “At this sort of level as soon as you have possession of the ball you need to score off it.” The world champions turned a two goal deficit into a two goal advantage.
Quarter three should have been about playing catching up for England but that did not quite go to plan. The long ball tactic seemed to catch on for a bit after Pamela Cookey intercepted an Aussie pass by the centre circle and hefted it down to shooter Jo Harten for an easy score. Australia had to resort to long shots in the periods where the England defence gave them no other choice. Sonia Mkoloma needed ice on an eye injury and went off later in the quarter with an tweak to the ankle replaced by Eboni Beckford-Chambers. England had brought Sara Bayman on at WD for the quarter, Jade Clarke moved to centre, Karen Atkinson to WA with Louisa Brownfield making way for Jo Harten. Australia were more select shuffling the positions of McMahon and Pratley while taking off Gerrard and bringing on Rachel Bulley.
A full on assault by Australia sealed the deal in the early part of the final fifteen minutes, racking up the score with relative ease. Serenia Guthrie added to her cap-book with a battling performance but it was pretty much a lost cause for England by then. Sherelle McMahon’s overall shooting success was at 85%, but she landed 91% of her attempts in the last quarter helping earn her Co-operative Player of the Match. Another gong for the dazzling Diamond. “I think you saw a tired game”, said Head Coach of the Australia Diamonds Norma Plummer, “ I thought we came home with the goods especially our squad in the last quarter with McMahon and Pratley just opening up the game.”
England will be looking to re-group ahead of Thursday’s Co-operative International Series meeting with New Zealand in Bath.
ENGLAND STARTING 7:
England: GS: Louisa Brownfield, GA: Pamela Cookey, WA: Tamsin Greenway, C: Karen Atkinson, WD: Jade Clarke, GD: Sonia Mkoloma, GK: Geva Mentor Bench: Jo Harten, Serena Guthrie, Stacey Francis, Nadia Hutchinson, Eboni Beckford-Chambers Q3 changes: Harten to GS, Atkinson to WA, Clarke to C, Bayman to WD Q3 injury change: Beckford-Chambers for Mkoloma, Q4 injury changes: Mkoloma for Beckford-Chambers, Guthrie for Clarke. Australia: GS: Susan Pratley, GA: Sharelle McMahon, WA: Kim Green, C Natalie von Bertouch, WD: Renae Hallinan, GD: Mo’onica Gerrard, GK: Bianca Chatfield.
Bench: Natalie Medhurst, Kate Beveridge, Lauren Nourse, Rebecca Bulley, Susan Fuhrmann. Q3 change: Bulley to GD. Q4 change: McMahon to GS, Pratley to GA
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS