The Australian Diamonds withstood a spirited England comeback in the final quarter of their match in London to take their second win of the first edition of the Quad Series for 2018.
Leading by seven goals at the start of the second half, Lisa Alexander’s charges looked set to push ahead and take a comfortable win over the world number three side.
But England, buoyed by Saturday’s win over New Zealand, edged and battled their way back into contention, inspired by some sterling defensive work by Geva Mentor and Eboni Beckford Chambers and lightning-quick driving to the circle edge by Natalie Haythornthwaite, a halftime replacement for Chelsea Pitman.
Alexander rang the changes in her starting line up after Saturday’s far from convincing win over South Africa, with captain Caitlin Bassett given the nod to spearhead the Diamonds’ front line, alongside Sunshine Coast Lightning teammate Steph Wood.
It was Australia who started the game more positively, forcing Roses gaoler Kadeen Corbin into two quick errors, which were swiftly converted to push the Diamonds out to a 5-2 lead early in the first period. With Wood playing a more dynamic game at GA, Australia started to look confident.
England worked their way back into contention, closing the gap to two, but with Liz Watson finding safe space to feed Bassett from the circle edge on the front hold, Australia ended the first period five goals in front.
England’s defence needed more opportunity to contest the lofted ball into Bassett, so Beth Cobden was introduced at the start of the second quarter to unsettle the Australian feeders. Opportunities were forthcoming, but with Courtney Bruce and the tireless Jo Weston working overtime to deny the English shooting circle the chance to take advantage, England failed to capitalise.
Corbin and Helen Housby were forced to offer and re-offer as Weston in particular confused the space available to the English attack. Pitman was replaced by Natalie Haythornthwaite midway through the quarter, to give the home side a more dynamic front line, while Beckford Chambers replaced captain Ama Agbeze in a bid to curtail the workrate and accuracy of Wood.
England turned over more ball, but then gave it straight back with stray passes and handling errors. Australia kept their resolve and added another two goals to the difference at the half time break.
April Brandley replaced Weston at the start of the second half, but failed to make a significant impact and in a quarter of nip and tuck netball, it was her opponent in Housby who stood out, netting 10 goals without a miss and marshalling the English front line with confidence and calm.
Watson and Wood lost their way midway through the term, with missed connections and a lack of drive to the post pushing coach Alexander to replace the Lightning goaler with veteran Susan Pettit. But with Housby now given more freedom to move around the attacking third, England were the first to settle and with six unanswered goals at the end of the quarter they closed the gap to three.
Lisa Alexander and Australia are World Cup champions for a reason and in a final 15 minutes of frenetic, frantic action, maintained their poise under the severest of pressure.
Housby, having shifted back to GS, was the target which England had been missing earlier in the game and took several almost impossible feeds to create shooting opportunities which she duly converted. With Caitlin Thwaites now on court for Bassett, who had failed to counteract the defensive pressure thrown at her by Geva Mentor, Australia now had their fourth shooting line up of the game on court, but Australia’s processes stood firm.
With Kim Ravaillion and Gabi Simpson continuing to close down space throughout the midcourt, England could find no way through, with Wood sinking the final goal to seal the victory.
Player of the match Jo Weston was in no doubt how tough the match had been, saying, “That was not the most beautiful game of netball to play, or probably to watch, but we got through it. We never felt we had won it, even in the last minutes, and with such an electric atmosphere, we’re just pleased we were able to maintain our connections and keep the intensity up throughout.”
The teams move on to South Africa for the second stage of the Quad Series, with Australia set to face New Zealand and England looking for their second win of the tournament against the fast-improving Proteas.
With the Silver Ferns looking to regain some pride after their loss to England, and South Africa wanting to prove how far they have come in the past year under Norma Plummer’s tutelage, the Quad Series is far from decided. With the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast only months away, the destiny of the medals is still anyone’s guess.
Australia 50 def England 46
(16-11, 28-21, 37-34, 50-46)
Player of the match: Jo Weston (Australia)
Starting line ups
Changes: Q2 WD Cobden, WA Haythornthwaite, GD Beckford Chambers, Q4: GS Housby, GA Corbin then Cardwell
Changes: Q3 GD Brandley, GA Pettit, Q4: GA Wood, GD Weston
Bassett 30/32 94%
Wood 14/19 74%
Pettit 1/1 100%
Thwaites 5/5 100%
Housby 33/36 92%
Corbin 12/16 75%
Cardwell 1/2 50%
Cover image: Simon Leonard