NS EXCLUSIVE: View from the bench with Sam Bird

NS EXCLUSIVE: View from the bench with Sam Bird

By |2021-09-21T11:41:04+10:00September 21st, 2021|Categories: International, NZ, UK|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Have you ever wondered what an elite coach is thinking as a game unfolds?

For match one of the 2021 Taini Jamison series, Netball Scoop is delighted to share the insights of Sam Bird, London Pulse CEO and Director of Netball. A former English international, Bird has coached in the Vitality Super Netball League for the last 15 years, and has also coached a range of national teams including England U17s, U21s, Futures and Open Squads. London Pulse, now in their third year of competition in the VNSL, provides the performance pathway for London and it’s surrounding suburbs.


General thoughts about the game

It looked like both teams were tentatively feeling each other out, which was to be expected given the circumstances – the pandemic, the limited amount of preparation they’d had, and the logistics of having players from both sides coming out of quarantine.

Both Jess Thirlby and Dame Noeline Taurua would have been looking at building combinations, as both teams had a number of either relatively new players out on court, or ones that hadn’t played international netball for some time.

For the Roses, Geva Mentor and Layla Gusgoth haven’t played internationally since the 2019 Netball World Cup, while Beth Cobden is also back in the red dress after a series of knee injuries. For the Silver Ferns, Tiana Metuarau made her debut, while Maddy Gordon is also relatively new to this level. Gina Crampton is the Silver Ferns newly appointed captain, and sometimes that can also impact on court performance.


Maia Wilson and Geva Mentor contest for the ball. Image Steve McLeod



We saw Geva and Layla form a strong combination in 2019, and it was crucial to see if they could re-establish that connection. Layla had five gains for the match, and Geva one, but more importantly, their relationship showed good signs of growth as the match progressed. I expect that to continue towards the Commonwealth Games.

They came up against a dynamic and rotational circle of Maia Wilson and Tiana Metuarua. The Silver Ferns’ shooters’ movement was good, and as the game progressed their connection with the middies strengthened, and they were using some good triangular structures to set up play.

Although the first quarter was fairly even, the Silver Ferns started to dominate the Roses’ shooting circle. In the second quarter, Karin Burger restricted Sophie Drakeford-Lewis to one goal, one centre pass receive and no feeds, so a change was needed. Bringing George Fisher on at goal shooter, and moving Ellie Cardwell to goal attack, was a good move to make.

They’ve played together successfully for England before, and their height and change of pace worked well for England. George shot 22/23 at 96%, and was the most accurate shooter on court, while Ellie’s 10 centre pass receives sat just behind Gina Crampton and Laura Malcolm.

There was an issue with first and second phase depth on the Roses centre pass. The Silver Ferns did an excellent job of shutting down the forward pass, and the Roses had to go back to their wing defence or goal defence 30% of the time.

It’s well known that the Roses are still developing that wing attack position, and with Natalie Haythornthwaite unavailable for this leg of the tour, they had to find a different option. Wing attack isn’t Malcolm’s preferred position – she’s a good option, but needs more time in the position if she is seriously going to be looked at as a Commonwealth Games option. What she does do well is connect with Cardwell, as they play club netball together. However, her availability was limited across the line by the Silver Ferns’ wing defences.

The Roses ended up on the wrong side of the penalty count, with it running 61-32 against them. At times they were stuck on the body, and when defending were stabbing at the pass rather than moving their feet to the ball, which caused the contact.

A couple of the defenders were also called for holding, so will need to adjust their body angles or come off the body slightly to address this. It was also physical in and around the circle, with a lot of jostling for position

They are going to have to adjust – to understand what the umpires are seeing, and be smarter about their body control as it can be the difference in a close match.


A sneaky hand in from Claire Kersten as she tries to disrupt the Roses attacking game. Image Steve McLeod


Players and match ups

Imogen Allison (2 gains) came on really well at wing defence. Her tracking was really good, and slowed down the New Zealand attack. They had to make a few more passes into the circle, stifling some of their attacking flair and allowing England to come back into the game.

Beth Cobden had an outstanding VNSL season this year, and while she only played half a match, it’s important to remember she’s on the comeback from three ACL injuries. She will need court time at the international level to adjust to its intensity and physicality, but I expect her to continue improving.

Over the past few years we’ve really seen the Silver Ferns’ wing attacks play a much shorter attacking game than Australia and England are used to in their domestic competitions. They use a combination of clever body positioning, short passes followed by hard drives to the circle edge that will also take opponents time to adapt to.

Jade Clarke also did very well during her 13 minutes on court. She and Serena Guthrie complement each other well – they are both hugely experienced, and while Serena has the best defensive capability in the business, Jade perhaps edges her in terms of attacking play. It isn’t always easy to come on as an impact player, but Jade was very calm when she came on, carried the ball carefully to the circle edge which is what the shooters needed, and was a significant contributor in England clawing back the margin.

For the Silver Ferns, I thought Kelly Jury (three gains) had a great first half – she’s been overcoming shoulder surgery, but built into the game nicely and started to pick off some of the feeds into the circle. Kelly is very rangy, but quite deceptive, and contested for some balls that in the past she might not have gone for.

Tiana Metuarau had a wonderful debut, and was a well deserved MVP. She was New Zealand’s dominant shooter in the first quarter, shot at 100% accuracy in the first half, and brought Maia Wilson into the game nicely. Despite limited time together they already have a good understanding, and rotated the circle well.

Of the two New Zealand centres, I thought Sam Winders had the edge, although there wasn’t much between them. Sam is such a hard worker, disrupts play, chases down ball and plays with great confidence.

Gina Crampton would have been pleased with her first game as captain. She’s not flashy, there’s no drama, but she plays her role very well. She got out for first phase, hit the circle edge well, and is patient with her attacking play. There’s more to come from her, but she was a steady, calm influence for their new attacking line up.


One change that could have altered the result of the game

I would have started with George Fisher at goal shooter and Ellie Cardwell at goal attack. George has had an outstanding season in New Zealand, she’s comfortable against her opponents having played them all season, and it would have given two targets for the Silver Ferns to deal with.

That’s to take nothing away from Sophie Drakeford Lewis who started at goal attack, as she does need experience at this level, and we need to see what she’s capable of. She offers a different style and speed in the role, but I would like to see a higher shot count from her.

There is the luxury of Helen Housby and Jo Harten who can both play at goal attack during the Australian leg, and there are also additional goal attacks Rhea Dixon and Ella Clark travelling with them in New Zealand, so it will be fascinating to see who starts in the next test.


Looking ahead to the rest of the series

I’m looking forward to seeing how England will improve on the first phase centre pass, and whether Malcolm will be given more time to develop at wing attack, or whether perhaps Jade Clarke or Sophie Drakeford-Lewis will be tested in the role.

Specialist coach Liana Leota is an outstanding attacking player herself and I think that will really benefit the development of players in that role.


Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.
Go to Top