The England Roses bounced back to put in a sensational performance at the SSE Arena, Wembley today but fell agonisingly short in their quest to beat the current World Champions.
After three quarters the Roses were ahead and dreaming of a famous win but the tenacious Australian Diamonds fought back to take a 47-46 victory and with it, the Quad Series title.
Tracey Neville selected the same starting seven which began Thursday’s heavy defeat to New Zealand and they were determined to put that display behind them from the first whistle.
Despite a couple of handling errors in the final third, strong defence from Geva Mentor allowed England to respond and cut the visitors lead to 5-3 after five minutes.
The incredible Diamonds defence were really applying the pressure and Helen Housby was forced into pulling her best flamingo impression as she sunk her shot one-legged from range.
A physical contest was taking place in the England attack end with Gabi Simpson being warned for persistent contact. Kadeen Corbin and Chelsea Pitman were unflustered as the pair combined with nice work around the circle edge for the former to score.
The Roses GS then had the crowd on their feet with a breath-taking drive into the circle but saw her effort bounce out as the visitors stayed ahead. A late Mentor steal and Corbin goal reduced the deficit to 9-13 at the end of Q1.
Once again Mentor led the charge in the second quarter, a superb rebound drew the contact from the Diamonds’ attack and Corbin fired in the pass for Housby to net. Another converted turnover inspired by Mentor had the hosts within one.
Wembley was rising to its collective feet once again as Corbin fired in the leveller moments later. It was even noisier in a matter of seconds as stolen possession in the mid-court allowed Housby to score from range, followed by her own roar of appreciation.
England were buoyant but Australia replied in kind. Good hands in the defensive third from Sharni Layton and Gabi Simpson put the Diamonds back on the ball and converted turnovers moved them 24-21 clear at half-time.
Gretel Tippett was introduced for the third quarter and this coincided with a good run for the away side. As England slowed play in the attack end, Australia capitalised. Stolen ball gave the new introduction a chance to build the lead and suddenly the gap was at six.
This time it was the Roses turn to fire back. Pitman was pulling the strings and there was fire in the belly of the English beast. Beth Cobden raced in for a turnover and Corbin applied the finish.
Once more the Arena was rocking and the decibel level raised further as Mentor tipped an attempted feed onto the post and straight back into her hands. Corbin and Housby both sunk attempts from range and the teams were back level.
The momentum was with the hosts and Lisa Alexander made a change, replacing Caitlin Thwaites with Susan Pettitt.
It didn’t make the immediate impact she had desired as Cobden used her athleticism to steal another Diamonds pass, Housby applied the finish and with fifteen minutes to go, England had taken a 36-34 lead.
The expected Australian response was quick to materialise. A flurry of green and gold seemed to encompass the mid-court as a four goal streak saw the lead switch hands.
Over 7,000 fans were refusing to let England down and their noise sparked the Roses back into life. Corbin and Mentor were dictating the play at either end but the Diamonds still had a slender advantage.
With the away defence starting to mark the space under the post, Housby took it upon herself to shoot from range and it paid off.
The momentum was only briefly halted as Layton’s phenomenal tussle with Corbin resulted with the England shooter taking a finger to the eye and being replaced by Natalie Haythornthwaite.
When play resumed the ball found Housby on the edge and she sunk an effort more satisfying than a home-made lasagne.
Mentor didn’t stay out of the limelight for long as another steal resulted in an attacking contact. England were back on the ball and it was soon in the hands of Housby and therefore, making its way through the net.
With under two minutes to go the Roses were down by one. The intensity was ferocious and with seventeen seconds on the clock they had secured a precious turnover.
A contact in the final third gave England ten seconds to take the game in to extra-time. Strong Diamonds defence narrowed the options and when Layton plucked out a lofted feed, the game was Australia’s.
Roses starting 7: GS – Corbin, GA – Housby, WA – Pitman, C – Clarke, WD – Cobden, GD – Agbeze, GK - Mentor
Diamonds starting 7: GS – Thwaites, GA – Pettit, WA – Hadley, C – Ravaillion, WD – Simpson, GD – Brandley, GK - Layton
Umpires: Jono Bredin and Lisa McPhail with Marielouw van der Merwe
photos Janos Schmidt