England's upset win over Diamonds at Netball World Cup built on experience from repeated recent losses
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England's upset win over Diamonds at Netball World Cup built on experience from repeated recent losses

Aug 14, 2023

England netball coach Jess Thirlby has been hauled over hot coals for the past 12 months regarding the form of her Roses.

At the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the hosts failed to medal in their attempt to defend gold, while Thirlby's tactics were further criticised in a 3-0 Test series loss to the Diamonds in October.

The first match to start series was decided in the last 10 seconds of the game, 55-54, but the remaining two meets went Australia's way by a combined 12 goals.

Looking back, Thirlby said those lessons were key to the Roses' shock 56-55 win over Australia in one of the best games of the Netball World Cup, considering some of England's younger and less experienced stars made the difference.

England record a drought-busting 56-55 win over Australia to send the Diamonds crashing to their first loss of the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town.

Despite a hot start, the Roses were trailing by six at half-time, having been penalised 41 times to Australia's 20, when Thirlby switched the circle defence up to give Funmi Fadoju and Fran Williams a run together for the third quarter.

The UK Superleague stars had only really had exposure to the Australians in that recent Test series and the 2023 Quad Series, but had a huge influence as England won the second half 30-23.

Faoju's London Pulse teammates, Chelsea Pitman and Jade Clarke, were also injected into the game in the second half and were immense in the midcourt.

It was an example of just how capable England's domestic talent is, still able to learn some valuable lessons against the Australian style of play across a handful of international games without the need to rely on a Super Netball contract.

"Coming into the last World Cup, we had quite a hiatus of games against Australia and you can't learn to beat a team that you don't play, so were a bit reliant on individuals that had been there [in Super Netball or against the Diamonds before] because we hadn't hit out against them often enough," Thirlby said.

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"Heading into that October series, we'd barely trained together after the Commonwealth Games, but we were prepared to get on that plane because we knew how valuable that series would be later on.

"To miss out by one goal in the first game, it's no mistake that when we find ourselves in situations like that, we are now managing to make a shift.

"We did take players over there that had barely played against Australia before, so hopefully we're getting the rewards now, we just had to be patient and that's why resisting the external noise is part of our job."

The 22 changes Thirlby made across the game kept fresh legs on court and the Diamonds on their toes, while Stacey Marinkovich was surprisingly quiet on the substitution front.

Previously making up to 18 changes in some of Australia's earlier games against lower-ranked nations to rotate through her entire 12, this time Marinkovich left Sophie Garbin on the bench.

Garbin has more goals than anyone else for the team yet at this tournament (188 goals at 91 per cent), and defender Sunday Aryang also didn't make it out on court.

Whether Marinkovich is trying to pull off a similar plan to Noeline Taurua's mastermind approach to the last World Cup is a great question.

Back then, the Silver Ferns head coach conceded she was happy to concede New Zealand's preliminary match to Australia (50-49) as she tested tactics and kept her real plans up her sleeve.

Unaware, the Diamonds were almost lulled into a false sense of security and struggled to match the Kiwi side that went on to flip the script in the final (52-51) to lift the trophy.

In fact, the last two World Cups have been won by a team that has lost before the finals, showing all is not done yet for Australia's hopes.

When asked about Garbin remaining on the bench, Marinkovich gave nothing away.

"Ultimately, they were doubling back on our goal shooter and it didn't matter which goal attack we put out there, that was working. … We've just got to look at how we can be more direct," she said.

"From our point of view, nothing has been lost yet, that's our mentality."

England and Australia had already secured their place in the semis heading into the last day of the preliminary stage, but Thirlby will now have the upper hand for finals after beating the world number one side for the first time since the Quad Series in 2019.

After watching England remain perfect in Cape Town, Australia will likely face Jamaica in the semifinal — the tournament's only other undefeated side.

The Sunshine Girls have managed to get past hosts South Africa and current world champions New Zealand in the preliminary stages. They were also the first team to crack the 100 mark with a 105-25 victory against Sri Lanka on day one.

Marinkovich has been open about her reasons for trialling a relatively unknown Cara Koenen and Garbin combination in the Diamonds' earlier matches, in order to prepare ahead of time for the height and aerial skills of Jamaica's defenders.

Her comments about needing to find a more "direct" route to post after the loss to England therefore suggest Garbin could kill two birds with one stone for the upcoming semi; knowing the shooting load the Collingwood star has taken on at the tournament and how well the rest of the Diamonds attack seem to be able to sight her as a target under the post.

Another thing the Australians will need to think about regards Courtney Bruce, after the New Zealand umpires paid very close attention to the goal keeper.

In Super Netball, umpires are encouraged to let physicality go within reason so as not to disrupt the flow of the game, but other leagues are generally more conservative.

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Netball continues to persist with its ruling that no country is allowed to officiate its own team, so the Diamonds are always expected to attract more whistle.

Bruce was called twice for contact within seconds of the match start — the first of which came before the opening centre pass was even taken.

If Bruce is to be watched like a hawk, the Diamonds will need to have some serious discussions on how they adapt their game plan.

She didn't finish the match as the most penalised player by any means (seven penalties) but Marinkovich made the switch for Sarah Klau – a more off-line kind of defender – just 11 minutes into the first quarter as a way to adapt to that whistle; and later brought Bruce on in goal defence.

Bruce has been one of the Diamonds' best in Cape Town, so really should be on court as much as possible given her form, but she'll need to find a way to stay under the radar for the upcoming finals.

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