While it was far from revenge for a Commonwealth Games loss in April, the Australian Diamonds will take heart from a five goal victory over their England Roses rivals in their second Quad Series match in front of a sell-out Newcastle crowd of 4,544.
A flying start by the Roses appeared to stun the Diamonds at the start of the match, but through the defensive work of Gabi Simpson, Courtney Bruce and Jo Weston, the Diamonds managed to claw their way back into the contest, despite some early problems in attack.
The home team struggled to penetrate the circle, with Centre Kim Ravaillion offering little in terms of movement or options on the circle edge. When she did manage to find position, too often she her feeds were off course, or she remained static, allowing her opponent Serena Guthrie to swoop in for an intercept. And so, despite the best efforts of the defence, England were able to push their lead out to three at the first break, leading 14-11.
The start of the second quarter saw Ravaillion relegated to the bench, making way for Liz Watson to come on in Centre. Immediately the attack end opened up, if only a little, which in turn lifted the whole team defensively and the Diamonds began to close the gap.
England struggled to cope with the increased defensive pressure without shooting stalwart Jo Harten (out with a knee injury) and were forced to make a change, with Natalie Haythornthwaite heading to the bench, Helen Housby out to her more traditional position of Goal Attack and Kadeen Corbin entering the game at Goal Shooter. The crowd came alive as the Diamonds levelled the score mid-way through the quarter, then pulled ahead for the first time in the game.
The teams traded goals for the remainder of the quarter, with a bit of fire entering the match as Corbin and Bruce wrestled for the ball following an England goal. A shot from Steph Wood on the whistle put the Diamonds ahead by two going into half time, 26-24.
The third quarter saw Gretel Tippett replace Wood in Goal Attack, with Wood being managed for a niggle to her thigh, and the Diamonds started to look in control of the match. The defensive trio continued to be in everything, with deflections aplenty as they continued to cause problems for the English shooters.
The height of Tippett and Bassett proved to be a headache for the English defenders, with Layla Guscoth moving out to Wing Defence, captain Ama Agbeze entering the game at Goal Defence and Jade Clarke heading to the bench. Almost immediately after, Haythornthwaite re-entered the game, this time taking over from Chelsea Pitman in Wing Attack. Despite all the changes, the Diamonds were on a roll and it seemed nothing could slow their momentum as they pushed out to a seven goal lead going into the final break, 41-34.
More England changes marked the start of the second half, with Pitman back on in Wing Attack and Jodie Gibson coming on in Wing Defence. Quite the achievement for Diamonds Wing Attack Kelsey Browne in only her second cap and first starting role, to send two opponents to the bench, despite her diminutive stature. However, it was Gibson who finally seemed to have her number, keeping her off the circle edge and restricting her centre pass receives.
Shooting woes continued to plague England, having perhaps learned a little too much from New Zealand in their encounter over the weekend. Some uncharacteristic misses from Housby handed opportunities to the Diamonds, but they were unable to capitalise, allowing England to close the gap to two midway through the quarter. Bassett struggled against her former Sunshine Coast Lightning teammate Geva Mentor, with some big misses of her own and difficulty finding her position under the post.
But it wasn’t to be for the Roses, unable to sustain the pressure for the whole quarter. The Diamonds began to find space in attack once again and the defenders putting Housby and Corbin under pressure, sparking almost out and out hostility between the two as things stopped going their way while the Diamonds pushed ahead for a 52-47 win.
Coach Lisa Alexander was matter of fact about the victory, reiterating that the message out of the Diamonds camp wasn’t about revenge, it was just about building for the future. She was bemused by the physicality in the game and maintained that didn’t form part of her team’s game plan.
“It’s a very interesting style,” she said after the match. “We’re not playing like that. We play with skill, we try and get our defenders going around the body to the line of the ball, not hitting the body. I thought that was a little bit untidy tonight.”
It was a subdued celebration for the Diamonds, obviously pleased with the win, but knowing that it in no way made up for walking away from Gold Coast with a silver medal. There will be a lot of work to do for the team to get to the level they will aspire to for the Netball World Cup next year, but this match proved a solid first step in that journey.
Australian Diamonds 52 def England Roses 47
(11-14, 26-24, 41-34, 52-47)
Player of the Match: Liz Watson (Australia)
Crowd: 4544 at Newcastle Entertainment Centre
Bassett 37/40 93%
Wood 10/12 83%
Tippett 5/5 100%
Housby 29/35 83%
Haythornthwaite 6/9 67%
Corbin 12/16 75%
Report: Megan Maurice
Photos: May Bailey