Somewhat gutted by the recent retirement, sudden sabbatical and pregnancy of three consecutive captains from the defensive circle, Australia looked to the first goal shooter since Vicki Wilson, in Caitlin Bassett, to lead the hosts into the Commonwealth Games on home turf next year.

There were plenty of familiar connections in the forward line, but the backs were looking decidedly not just gold but quite green, with two goal defenders under 15 tests, and two goal keepers ready to debut. It should have been the perfect time for a vastly more experienced England to pounce more like lions than Roses, hungry for the win, but the visitors were so far behind the pace in the first half that their revival with two injury substitutions, although exciting, was too little too late.

Perhaps struggling without the inclusion of veteran Natalie Medhurst, the Diamonds were relieved but definitely rough as they opened their Quad Series account in Brisbane with a 54-50 win.

Photo: Simon Leonard

 

Starting lineups

Australia
GS – Caitlin Bassett
GA – Gretel Tippett
WA – Madison Robinson
C – Kim Ravaillion
WD – Gabrielle Simpson
GD – April Brandley
GK – Courtney Bruce
Bench – Caitlin Thwaites, Tegan Philip, Elizabeth Watson, Joanna Weston, Emily Mannix
Coach – Lisa Alexander

England
GS – Kadeen Corbin
GA – Helen Housby
WA – Chelsea Pitman
C – Jade Clarke
WD – Serena Guthrie
GD – Eboni Beckford-Chambers
GK – Geva Mentor
Bench – Ama Agbeze (captain), Eleanor Cardwell, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Beth Cobden, Stacey Francis
Coach – Tracey Neville

Umpires – Theresa Prince, Yu Bee Ling, Kristie Simpson (reserve)

 

The opening passage for Australia showed the understanding of a Firebirds flavour with an established injection of Robinson at wing attack and Bassett under the post. The England buildup took longer, with the home team defence forcing usage of the second option and lifted balls, all placed safely and eventually converted by HousbyTippett was on a mission in defence, stepping offside conspicuously and often. Her unfamiliar combination with Robinson was able to be exposed with tight marking from Mentor, blocking a risky flat lob. England led 5-3 after 6 minutes of play.

Photo: Simon Leonard

The entire Australian team defended well, forcing England wide and gaining tips. Housby was the main channel for the visitors early, often taking the front cut and swishing goals through with great aplomb. While Australia could deliver on the shot, a variety of errors meant they were starved of attempts. The home side defencewas that classic game of inches, as player after English player tip-toed to keep safe possession, with white lines and enemy fingertips a hair’s breadth away.

Even though the umpiring was overly kind and sometimes blind towards defence, especially Bruce and Brandley, the Roses shooters had their moments to cunningly push off and create space. Robinson sliced through several beautiful impossible feeds to Bassett, underneath, over, and around. Sticking to a formula of uncanny quick release, Australia finally took the lead 7-6 with 5 mins remaining.

Simpson set the crowd alight with one of several heroic intercepts at circle edge, giving Australia a 2-goal lead after the conversion. It was a chance to gain momentum and punish the Roses. And so it seemed to just deflate England slightly, with anxiety creeping into their ball delivery, contrasting with the smooth flow from the home side – suddenly it was 15-10 to the Diamonds at the quarter break.

Photo: Simon Leonard

Pitman was playing well off the line at wing attack at the centre pass for England, but as Simpson was in hot form and a good physical match, it was only when the midcourt defensive switch occurred that the new England recruit really shone. Brandley kept Housby far out of the circle, and the ball was seeming to fall directly into Australian hands at times. Brilliant play by Robinson saw her integral to all attacking plays and especially feeds from all angles.

An injury timeout called by Jade Clarke saw her on the bench with Cobden into wing defence and Guthrie moving to centre. Immediately both midcourters for England slickly covered fades to the sidelines and pockets with great vigour, inches from possession. Soon after that, Beckford-Chambers made way for her captain Agbeze at goal defence. Gradually this tightened up the space in the Australian shooting circle, creating opportunities for Mentor to shine and come out with close to even intercept stats with her opposite in Courtney Bruce. Meanwhile, England’s shooters were forced to play as individuals by the amazing footwork of Bruce and Brandley. Midway through the quarter, Australia hit 25 goals and a 10-goal lead.

Photo: Simon Leonard

Pitman’s influence grew, as she continued to dominate the centre pass receipt but also circle edge, choosing solid feeding options. This was of necessity as Guthrie took a long time to warm into the attacking brief of her new position. Some spectacular plays from Tippett to Bassett fended off a surge from England – firstly a super-fast jump and flick pass, and then a questionable lob which caught Mentor late and taking landing space away. The Australian midcourt were formidable, with variety, spice, and communication, as Ravaillion slammed a perfect triangle triple-play to Bassett, and Simpson gave Robinson the perfect support she needed on the line when falling out of court. The green and gold had a 32-22 advantage at half-time.

Australia, taking confidence from the first half, brought on new goal attack and defence in Philip and Weston respectively. The return of Tegan Philip to the international scene was safe, but did detract from the pattern of using Bassett as focal point, using flatter angles and not always looking to the post shooter first. There was steadiness in the England front line, and Guthrie was now a viable feeding option, at times totally evading her opposition. Bruce at keeper was reliably intent in covering spaces and drives, and in snatching most rebounds. Despite being a solid defensive presence, Ravaillion threw a couple of conspicuously soft passes in the third quarter, as England snuck closer, 30-38 down halfway through the period. 

Photo: Simon Leonard

Throughout the third as the entire match, even with Housby ever-reliable and relaxed on the shot, the Roses shooters were not creative enough in using each other or their feeders in triangles to set up play, pressurised by unforgiving home team defensive structure. Corbin could be seen to be gasping for air and possibly panting in frustration, as some very heavy contacts were missed by umpire You Bee Ling. Softer legitimate infringements were then whistled moments later. A short flurry of crisp passing from Pitman to Corbin’s excellent baseline cuts brought the lead back to only six, 43-37 to the Diamonds at the last break.

Photo: Simon Leonard

With England winning the third quarter by four goals, coach Lisa Alexander moved to stabilise her forward line with Tippett back on in place of Philip. Tippett seemed to have more time and space available in the buildup to goal, very often commanding the centrechannel. Agbeze perhaps knew she couldn’t match Tippett’s height and physical presence, and the former junior Australian basketballer looked earlier to set up her partner from the distant goal third, or on the run falling out of court. Bruce and Weston continued to own all rebounds, and there was slick transition from the Diamonds until a couple of rushed decisions from Tippett and more messy play not reigned in by the Singaporean umpire.

Photo: Simon Leonard

Now it was England’s turn to tenaciously back up and get a run of luck, holding at 43-49 with seven mins remaining. Cobden in particular had grown throughout the match and Robinson was at times going missing in action. In the last three minutes it seemed like umpire Ling was having a meltdown, constantly missing obvious infringements from England’s defence line. Bassett realisedthat she had to give as good as she got, and started to control her space more in the final minutes. It was a nice fend off from the Australians, for even while Pitman linked again and again to her shooters, the English run was left too late, and then fell four goals short.

 

Australian Diamonds 54 def England Roses 50
Player of the Match:
Courtney Bruce (Australia)

Australia
Bassett 43/46  93%
Tippett 7/9  78%
Philip 4/5 80%
54/60  90%

England
Corbin 20/25  80%
Housby 30/34  88%
50/59  85%

 

Photo: Simon Leonard

 

Key stats

Deflections
Bruce (Australia) 8
Mentor (England) 8
Simpson (Australia) 4
Agbeze (England) 3

Intercepts
Bruce (Australia) 5
Simpson (Australia) 4
Mentor (England) 4
Agbeze (England) 2

 

Caitlin Bassett

On being captain for the first time
“The focus for this series has been enjoying it. Past players have come in and told us how quickly things flash by, and to make sure that you really enjoy the moment. For us standing on the transverse line singing the anthem, it was a reminder that we are blessed to be standing there… in the twelve chosen. It was extra-special for me today, I’ve had a few reminders how lucky I am to be captaining the country.”

 

Lisa Alexander

Her evaluation of the game and the inclusion of youth in the team
“I feel pride, really. I think we proved all those nay-sayers about experience levels wrong, which I love to do. I reminded the players that it was up to them to make their history today. I’ve always said you ignore youth at your peril.

“We don’t get to play tests as much as other countries do. We actually play the top five all the time and it’s really hard to get into this team. Courtney (Bruce) has been waiting for a time. She’s done the work and we talked about it before she went on. (I asked) how old were you when you started? And she said, “Eight”. Well, you’ve been working at this for a long time, so enjoy it!”

On facing South Africa on Wednesday
“We’ll be preparing with a mighty amount of detail, because they have improved every time we’ve played them and I’m sure you’ll see that tonight when they play the Silver Ferns.”

 

Courtney Bruce

On her debut
“I still feel like I’m dreaming a bit! I said to Kath that she needs to slap me to make it feel real. It’s really exciting to be standing on that transverse, next to (Caitlin) Bass (sic), someone I’ve known since I was 14, coming through the ranks in Western Australia, was fantastic.”

On the best advice she had leading up to the debut
“Something that Gab (Simpson) said to me at the start of the year – whenever I felt doubt in myself, remember that Lisa (Alexander) decided to choose me, and that stays in the back of my head that I’m doing the right thing. (At the end) I wasn’t really nervous, I felt like we were in control, that we could push the lead out.”

 

Geva Mentor

On playing against her Sunshine Coast Lightning teammate Caitlin Bassett
“It’s been built up over the last couple of weeks, it’s great to see her leading the Diamonds now. She’s had a fantastic season at Sunshine Coast. I don’t know what you’d call it today, probably one-all – I don’t think she got the better of me, and I don’t think I got the better of her. She knows my strengths and weaknesses and that makes for a good battle. At the end of the day, it’s not just about what I do, it’s about what my teammates do out in front of me, too.”

“Under Noels (Noelene Taurua, Lightning coach) and Kylie this year, my netball’s gone to the next level. It’s great to be back under Tracey (Neville) and learn what our game plan is here, and making sure I can implement the best game plan possible.”

On being out-rebounded eight to one by the Diamonds
“(Laughs) It’s obviously a key element to any game, possession up for grabs for either team, so it’s disappointing to hear that sort of stat. That’s eight possessions that could be the difference between winning the game and not. With shooters who shoot such high percentages, you have to take any chance you can get.”

 

Tracey Neville

On the 12-3 run to Australia between first and second quarters
“It’s about sticking to the game plan. We weren’t clinical in executing that. We let the Aussies bring the game to us. We weren’t delaying their play, stepping up to them, taking the hits. It’s disappointing for me to say, because I think we are a lot more clinical with our ball. The options we provide we just need to sight and deliver. That was one of the major things that went wrong for us. I have to congratulate our team to come back and win the second half.

“We’ve got a really good mix in our group of girls with experience in Australia, but also in New Zealand and in Super League. Girls have won titles this year and that’s something we’ve never experienced as a team. We’ve got a lot of winners, a lot of fighters. They’re now competitive for places as well – they don’t want to sit on the bench, they want to go out there and win. They now don’t think any team is unbeatable. At the moment it’s a jigsaw, and we haven’t found the final picture yet.”

On how she was able to create a lift in the midcourt in the second half
“In the first quarter we held onto the ball too long. We weren’t getting depth and executing speed. The injection of Serena in the middle gave us something to play off in our front line – she was amazing to change into centre and make that sudden impact. Another thing is that we investing each other. There’s a movement there, let’s give the ball and be 100% confident that they’re going to get it.”

 

 

Twitter: @NetballDrewski