A dominant first quarter from a new-look England team was enough for the Roses to squeeze past the Malawi Queens in the first of the three-test series in the UK.  But the visitors will have sensed that their ability to disrupt England’s playing patterns and score freely at will could have given them a famous victory.

 

Starting line ups

England
GS Rachel Dunn
GA Kadeen Corbin
WA Natalie Haythornthwaite
C Jade Clarke
WD Beth Cobden
GD Jodie Gibson
GK Ama Agbeze
Changes: Q3 – GA Ellie Cardwell, K Corbin to GS, Q4 – WA Sasha Corbin

Malawi
GS Mwawi Kumwenda
GA Jane Chimaliro
WA Thandie Galeta
C Takondwa Lwazi
WD Martha Dambo
GD Joana Kachilika
GK Lauren Ngwira

 

With key names missing from the England starting seven, owing to pre-season work with their domestic clubs in the southern hemisphere, the series gives opportunity for those remaining at home to put their hands up for Commonwealth Games selection.

It was Kadeen Corbin, whose recent appearances for England have been marred by inconsistency and a lack of focus, who stepped up to the challenge with a dominant shooting performance that deservedly won her the Player of the Match award.  Combining with veteran Rachel Dunn, Corbin kept the relatively inexperienced Malawian defenders on the back foot with some swift footwork and clever use of her body to create space for the shot.

Following uncertainty about her involvement in the run up to the series, Malawi’s spearhead Mwawi Kumwenda was named in the starting line-up and presented a number of challenges for England captain Ama Agbeze in the opening exchanges. However, when Kumwenda left the court for treatment for severe cramp after just five minutes of play, the visitors failed to settle into a new structure and England pounced.

The midcourt trio of Nat Haythornthwaite, Jade Clarke and Beth Cobden were relentless both on attack and defence, with Corbin and Dunn twisting and turning the Malawian defenders, Lauren Ngwira and Joana Kachilika, in knots with some clever interplay. England had pushed out to a 22-11 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Malawi’s netballers are famous for their self-confidence, and this belief in their abilities, coupled with the return of Kumwenda to the court and some lightning-fast long ball movement, brought dividends.  England lost some focus and with Martha Dambo and Takonda Lwazi upping the physical challenge in midcourt, the visitors started to pick up the pace and turn the scoreboard in their favour.

Despite a 100% return from Corbin (15/15) for the first half, the increasingly aerial game of Malawi had rocked England’s focus and they closed the gap to 39-30 by the main break.

Clarke and rising star Cobden were relentless from the start of the third quarter – they had to be to break down the attacking moves from a rejuvenated Malawian side. When the Queens feel confident, they are a side which can challenge any other in the world and as the gap between the two sides narrowed, so Malawi started to play with more freedom, vision and flair.

England’s defensive end withstood huge amounts of pressure to create turnovers, but these were often then thrown away by missed communication or over-ambition, which the visitors pounced on and scored from.

With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, England coach Tracey Neville looked to steady the England ship by juggling her front line, moving Corbin to GS and introducing Severn Stars Ellie Caldwell to GA. Malawi failed to adjust to Caldwell’s more considered style of play and England pushed ahead once more, to lead 51-41 with a quarter to play.

There were more twists and turns to the game with Malawi scenting the opportunity for victory in the last 15 minutes – they were relentless, drawing cheers of appreciation from the crowd for their aerial style of play and long range feeding to the circle. Cobden and Clarke again stepped up a gear, with Cobden in particular working overtime to deny Thandi Galeta space at the circle edge.

England maintained their composure, but only just. By closing the gap to only six goals at the end of the match, Malawi showed that they are more than a match for this experimental England line up. If the visitors can match England’s fast start in the second and third tests, an upset is very possible.

England coach Tracey Neville acknowledged after the game that there is still work to do, “There were aspects of that game I was really impressed with, but the ball going down court in three passes into that Malawi circle was not good enough.  As coaches, we are disappointed with that.”

England Roses 66 def Malawi Queens 60
Player of the Match – Kadeen Corbin (England)

 

Cover photo: Simon Leonard