Australia made a clean sweep of the recent test series against England, winning all three matches. Given that the Diamonds were without five of their Commonwealth Games team, it was a strong result for the home side, although they were pushed all the way by the Roses. Both sides used the opportunity to introduce some of their younger players to the big time, with Donnell Wallam, Amy Parmenter, Sophie Dwyer and Funmi Fadoju all making strong impressions out on court.
With shooting percentages and conversion rates fairly even, and Australia reeling in just seven more gains, there was one main statistical difference between the two sides. Australia were hungrier for the ball, achieving 55 loose ball pick-ups compared to England’s 34.
Netball Scoop asked two of the best coaches in the business, Lisa Alexander AM and Sam Bird, for their views on the series.
Test 1: Australia def England 55 – 54
Test 2: Australia def England 56 – 48
Test 3: Australia def England 57 – 53
Lisa Alexander AM (former Diamonds coach, current London Pulse Performance Director) on Australia
Your overall thoughts on Australia?
Australia went from strength to strength, in a seamless transition from the Constellation Cup. The group kept their squad mentality and it’s just working for them. Players know their role, they come on and do their job, contributing both as individuals and within the team structure. They seemed to be able to add different layers of their own individual flair.
As an example, Amy Parmenter came on and shut down the English captain, Nat Metcalf, so she will be under consideration for the Netball World Cup. Stacey (Marinkovich) has already pointed out that selection will be difficult, and a few players will be very unlucky to miss out. That’s the strength of Australian netball.
What were Australia’s main strengths?
I liked their ability to blanket the whole court. It looks almost like a zone but they are still covering their players one on one. The Diamonds covered the Roses’ first phase from centre pass extremely well, and worked hard at keeping the English players up the court and away from second phase.
It was their success in doing that which caused the Roses’ hesitation in passing, especially in the second test match. It really then brought out the strengths in the keepers – they had more time to look at the ball and where it was coming in from. Courtney Bruce and Sarah Klau both have different strengths which is great, and Klau did a particularly magnificent job on Cardwell in the second test. She was very clean and made it particularly difficult for the feeders to see where the pass had to go.
What are the key areas for improvement?
Australia kept up their intensity for most of the games. There were patches when England got on top, due to occasional passing errors from the Diamonds, where the pass wasn’t quite put out into the space. That’s to be expected with a new look midcourt feeding a new shooting circle, but they wouldn’t come off against a taller goal keeper like Kelly Jury. With a holding shooter you have to be very precise with your ball placement.
A couple of times on transition Australia weren’t in defensive position quickly enough, but that’s being very picky, because overall it was a really powerful performance.
How did the recent debutantes perform?
They are really contributing to the style of play that the Diamonds are putting out on court. There are expectations around what you want your unit and team to achieve, and if a new player understands their role, they are fine. Knowing their role really enhances their individual skills and allows them to shine, while contributing to team success.
Donnell was immense in the first game. For all intents and purposes I thought Australia had let that one slip, but Donnell came on, dominated, did her job and was able to bring out the individual brilliance at the end to seal it.
She’s given the Australian team a different way of attacking, she’s a scoring machine, strong in the air and really adds exuberance and energy to the team.
The way Kiera Austin fed her was very reminiscent of Nat Medhurst feeding Caitlin Bassett – they worked well together.
Amy was outstanding. She does a great shut down job on her opponent, but can also come up with the ball and attack well down court, so has great elements to her game. One of her greatest assets is the flexibility that allows her to be really strong in the pocket and around the circle edge, but still stay clean and in the contest.
Sophie was terrific. She used her court craft and timing beautifully, just slipping into the circle and shooting accurately. She and Sophie Garbin combined and complimented each other really well – I like their combination. Garbin has the ability to change her positioning to allow Sophie D into the circle so they can share the shooting load.
Your thoughts on Jamie-Lee Price’s return to the Diamonds?
I particularly liked her in centre – she provided great strength and power down court, which you need at times. She can see over the mess and put the long ball in, and she’s tidied up the accuracy of her long feeds. She’s also very strong on circle edge, using her fakes and flair on circle edge. We are seeing her continuing to refine her craft as a centre, while also being a good wing defence.
What lies ahead for the Quad Series?
All teams will be working on trialling and fine tuning selection decisions, because it’s the only real competitive environment left in which to test it. The teams will probably travel with 15, and hopefully they can all get some court time, which is a management issue. It’s not a time for taking younger ones for experience, it’s taking a strong 15 to assess their performance ahead of the World Cup selection process.
Your key thoughts on England this series?
I think as they tired they were unable to maintain match intensity for long enough – just a couple of slips here and there which let Australia back into the game. Executing across a full 60 minutes is hard work.
It’s a very tricky time for England at the moment – wanting to win games, but also to develop some of their younger players. Coaches have to be brave and put them out there.
Sam Bird (CEO and Director of Netball, London Pulse, former pathway coach, England) on England
Which players stood out for the Roses?
Eleanor Cardwell had a good series and showed she can compete against highly contested defence. She stepped up to play against Courtney Bruce and Sarah Klau, who are both very different keepers. El is quite new into the starting seven, she’s played well against the best in the world, and she still has plenty of room for growth. I’m excited to see her continue to progress.
It was the first senior tour to Australia for Funmi Fadoju, and I think it was a real break through. She started quietly, gained in confidence and showed that she can perform at world class level. However, she’s quite small at 176 cm and gets stuck on the body at goal keeper. I think she’s better across the line at goal defence or wing defence.
Fran Williams partnered up with all the other defenders well. She’s a good leader, an intelligent player, and showed that she can go on and fit into a structure and contest physically. She does a really good job in terms of grinding her opponent down and creating opportunities for others.
I think all the defenders really put their hands up in this series.
England really challenged Australia, but didn’t come up with a win. What are the key areas they need to target for improvement?
For me, it would be looking at transitional play. England’s defence won enough ball, but the transition looked a bit stilted at times – players weren’t breaking out in numbers. There should always be two or three options to the ball, but that was made difficult by the one-on-one marking pressure that Australia was applying.
With the Diamonds’ strength and speed, their marking is very difficult to break down – it forces opponents into working in isolation rather than as units. They looked very comfortable with their positioning on court, and England was having to fight their way through those structures, rather than creating their own. So finding some more width and depth to isolate the Australian players and break down their combinations.
On England’s centre pass, the first phase and second phase found it quite difficult to get depth, which then impacted centre pass conversion to goal. It would be good to see that higher – it sat at 66% for the series.
England is in a transitional period with three players who’ve recently retired and others edging towards the end of their careers. What are the challenges in blending a team with new players and existing ones?
It’s really hard for England at the moment. The off court and training environment is a great place for experienced players to pass on knowledge to newer players coming in, but England has half its players on the other side of the world, and most of them are starting seven players.
There’s only small opportunities to bring them all together; to impart and share that wisdom. It’s important to make the most of that, which is why I’d like to see our experienced players partnered with the newer ones during matches. For example, we’ve seen Jodi-Ann Ward really grow with Geva Mentor behind her at Collingwood.
I would have liked more experimentation, particularly Liv Tchine and Alice Harvey getting an opportunity to play alongside some of those wise heads, or Funmi in front of Geva for longer.
Alice had an outstanding season for Loughborough this year – she’s a tall, rangy goal keeper who offers something different. Liv played for Pulse against New Zealand in a closed doors match before the Commonwealth Games. She took five minutes to settle then did really well, and I thought she was outstanding against Uganda.
They’ve had such limited international experience, and yet if one of our senior players is injured they could be needed in the World Cup squad. So in the third test, when the series was lost, it could have been a good time to see those players, how far off the mark they are, and where they still need to improve.
Australians haven’t seen a lot of Hannah Joseph in the Roses dress but she did receive some court time. What are her strengths?
Hannah likes to body up. She’s used to driving to circle edge and feeding from there, and has a strong front cut. Hannah currently plays at Lightning, with a goal shooter and goal attack who aren’t part of the English squad. So she’s fairly new into the group and needs time with the different shooters to really develop a connection and variety on the feed.
England created a lot of deflections but struggled to convert them to gains. In the last test for example, they had 7 intercepts and 33 deflections, but just 13 gains in total. How can the gains be increased?
While the key issue is getting two hands to the ball, rather than one, players also need to back each up on loose balls, and being sharp and alive to those tips and deflections. So what is happening around the circle edge? Are our wing defence and centre aligned to picking those up?
Then knowing that your defenders can win ball, how do you transition effectively into attack? What’s the short option or offload available, allowing everyone that’s been on defence to transition into attack? Where will the multiple leads come from?
You only need to convert a few more of those deflections, and the game takes on a whole new complexity.
What was your key thought about Australia?
They are demonstrating their strength and depth. There are a definite two to three players putting their hand up for each position, and that’s going to present a real headache for the selectors. However, I still believe England has the players to beat them.