England looking ahead despite defeat to Australia

The Independent
The Independent

Vitality Roses captain Serena Guthrie insisted a Quad Series loss shouldn’t mean Commonwealth Games success should be seen as a surprise party — her squad still expects themselves to earn an invitation to defend their 2018 title.

England got off to a rocky start in Wednesday’s final at London’s Copper Box Arena but quickly regrouped, pulling ahead of defending champions Australia to take a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter and didn’t relinquish their advantage through the second.

But the Diamonds returned to court reinvigorated after half-time, and while England found themselves with a one-point lead to end a cagey third and keep their title chances alive, the final 15 minutes saw the Roses unravel as the Australians dominated to clinch their sixth Quad Series title with a convincing 58-46 victory.

“This has been coming for a long time. We’re not surprised to find ourselves out there going toe-to-toe with Australia, or beating New Zealand or beating South Africa,” said the skipper.

“This is where we want to be. The really exciting thing about the sport now is that’s where everybody expects us to be, not [just] ourselves, and we’ve dragged the fans along on that journey which is fantastic.

“Those expectations mean new challenges, and it means that we have to step up as a team constantly. It’s exactly where we want to be. The Commonwealth Games, there’s no reason why we can’t be confident.

“We know we can go toe-to-toe, we know what works and we know how to win, and for me that’s all that matters for me in terms of the preparation, is everybody understanding how to win.”

The Diamonds opened the scoring, sinking the first three points before England gained possession.

But Ellie Cardwell’s first attempt came up short, and the Roses were only able to claw one back from the visitors before finding themselves fending off the Aussie attack again.

England responded, Helen Housby at goal attack and wing attack Natalie Metcalf settling into a comfortably quick rhythm to feed the ball into their circle and goal shooter Cardwell’s initial miss proving her sole first-quarter foible.

With the Diamonds struggling to find an opening, Guthrie forced a turnover to ensure her squad was up 14-12 at the first break.

England added to their lead with the first points of the second quarter, Cardwell steely and steady under the post, and the Roses taking advantage of long passes as they upped their attack.

The Diamonds responded, clawing back as the clock ran down and England headed into half time up by just two goals at 27-25.

Both coaches made changes to start the second half, Diamonds boss Stacey Marinkovich moving Courtney Bruce from goal keeper to goal defence, Jess Thirlby electing to swap Cardwell and Housby in their positions.

The Diamonds finally found space and pace on court, finally pulling ahead for their first lead of the opening exchanges.

And Thirlby’s position swap nearly proved costly as Cardwell sent a pass sailing over Housby’s head a cagey quarter that saw the rattled Roses lead the Aussies by just 41-40 to end the quarter.

The defending champions returned to court with redemption in mind, and by the midway point had pulled ahead by seven goals, goal keeper Sarah Klau posing an increasingly difficult problem for England’s attack to solve.

A carousel of last-ditch changes, which saw Eboni Usoro-Brown and George Fisher come on for Thirlby, weren’t enough for England, who watched their chances slip away as the Diamonds’ dominant display put the game—and the title—firmly out of reach.

But Thirlby was encouraged by what she saw from a Roses squad that held the world number one Diamonds to a thrilling 48-48 last-gasp draw en route to the finale, and kept their first Quad Series title hopes alive until the final quarter.  She said: “[This] doesn’t define the quality of the group. It can become quite a distraction. Tonight, it’s OK if it hurts. It’s OK if people feel disappointed. You’ve got to acknowledge those feelings after a game, I don’t think it’s healthy not to.

“But I think we then have to just move on. The previous games and the first three quarters of today are far more valuable than just overthinking 15 minutes.

“Credit to Australia, they get it this time, [but] I’m just super pleased that we pushed ourselves into that final and gave ourselves a chance to compete. The more that we can do that, the better prepared we are for the Commies.”

Earlier, the battle for third place went down to the wire with New Zealand edging out South Africa 51-50.

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