Following the success of their training game against Australia at the start of the season, Loughborough Lightning this time took on England in front of an exclusive invite only crowd at the Loughborough University Netball Centre on Monday 1st March. With Lightning’s young side having experienced a disappointing first half of their Superleague season, Coach Olivia Murphy used the game as an opportunity to give the girls more experience against tougher opposition.
Lightning’s intentions of playing everyone were clear; they had a 13 player squad in comparison to England’s 8 player squad. They started the game with a relatively familiar starting seven, however Layla Guscoth moved out of the defensive circle to make way for young Mia Archer to make her Lightning debut at goal keeper. Fortunately for Lightning, star shooter and captain Jo Harten, chose to don the purple kit, despite having just returned from international duty with the opponents.
Lightning started the game positively, showing that they were not going to be intimidated by the stature of England. Guscoth and Archer, both 17, did not show any fear in defence, bravely blocking many of England’s attempts. Katy Rose and Sarah-Jane O’Sullivan linked up well in attack, and for a period of time, Lightning appeared to be keeping up with the fast pace England had set. However, despite a promising start, they could not keep up, and England took the first quarter 11-7.
The second quarter saw Lightning field their youngest team of the season so far, with Mia Archer the only player remaining on from the first quarter. Amongst the quarter time substitutions was 19 year old Loughborough student Abi Lambden, making her Lightning debut at centre. England immediately gave Lightning’s youngsters questions to answer, with two goals in quick succession. They looked more decisive than a nervous Lightning, and despite attempting to be patient, with Lambden and White often passing back to Talissa Haynes and Emma Bliss in defence, Lightning struggled to break a resilient England defence down. England extended their lead to ten goals, making the score 26-16.
Murphy brought Harten back on for the third quarter, this time at goal attack, in an attempt to bring a more experienced head to a nervous looking Lightning. It appeared to work at first, with Lightning making more space in attack, and Bliss making some good tips in defence. However, an early injury to Bliss saw her replaced by Archer. Upon the restart, England appeared to find their rhythm once more, with Serena Guthrie and Monique Wood putting some fine balls into the England attacking circle, and Jade Clarke and Rosie Ellison converted well. As a result, Lightning became tense, making unforced errors and despite often making the interceptions, they were unable to capitalise. At the end of the third quarter, the score was 43-23 to England.
The final quarter saw some familiar faces return to the Lightning attack, as Rose and Kirk returned, whilst Harten was again rested. However, this was not enough to deter England, who grew in confidence as Lightning faded away. The sheer presence of the England defence, in comparison to a small Lightning attack, saw many of Lightning’s attempts picked away, with what seemed like ease. And despite the Lightning defence’s bravest efforts, they could not prevent Clarke and Ellison increasing Lightning’s lead, which saw them reach a final score of 61-34.
Despite brave performances from Lightning’s youngsters, in which they played some impressive netball, England’s win was, in the end, convincing. They had no doubt been taught a lesson or two from the country’s best, however the experience gained may prove invaluable as they endeavour to improve on their disappointing start to the season.
Coach Olivia Murphy echoed this view, explaining ‘It was good to give all the girls a game today and to have everyone involved. Considering our squad has an average age of little more than 19, we didn’t do bad against some of the best netballers in the country! The result is disappointing, however it has highlighted to us the errors we have been making all season and we can now build on this in training.”
Lightning will be looking to rectify these mistakes in their next home Superleague fixture on Saturday against Northern Thunder on 20th March at the Sir David Wallace Sports Centre. For tickets please visit www.loughboroughlightning.co.uk.
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