New Zealand
GK Temalisi Fakahokotau
GD Katrina Grant
WD Samantha Sinclair
C Shannon Francois
WA Grace Kara
GA Maria Folau
GS Te Paea Selby-Rickit

England
GK Geva Mentor
GD Ama Agbeze
WD Beth Cobden
C Serena Guthrie
WA Chelsea Pitman
GA Helen Housby
GS Joanne Harten

The English Roses finally achieved what they have previously failed to do in a major tournament – beat New Zealand.

The historic win meant New Zealand had an anxious wait to see the outcome of the game between Uganda and Scotland later in the afternoon. Uganda’s win over Scotland was not big enough, which meant that New Zealand retained second place in Pool B, regardless of the loss to England.

While England’s win didn’t affect placings, it gives them vital confidence heading into semi-finals.

“I think this was about pride for us. I know we were guaranteed to finish top of the group, but we wanted to finish as we mean to go on in this tournament … I was proud to lead them today,” said England coach, Tracey Neville.

Te Paea Selby-Rickit started nervously for the Silver Ferns, missing her first three shots and taking six minutes to sink her first goal. Maria Folau took control, giving English captain Ama Agbeze the slip into the circle.

Katrina Grant and Temalisi Fakahokotau had their best start of the tournament, picking off three intercepts in the first quarter. They shut down England’s circle edge play – floating to cut off passes in, out and around the circle. England looked disjointed in attack due to the floating pressure. Housby took a while to settle and Harten’s usual confidence was lacking for much of the match.

Defensive pressure from New Zealand. Photo: Simon Leonard

New Zealand seemed to have the upper hand early, but four turnovers and six missed shots in the first quarter sabotaged the good defensive work, and Housby levelled on the siren.
The second quarter was another goal-for-goal battle. Both teams picked up intercepts that were converted, but neither team was able to draw ahead until England capitalised in the final minute to take a two-goal lead.

Grace Kara worked the angles against the inexperienced Beth Cobden and Cobden was replaced by veteran Jade Clarke. Selby-Rickit was replaced by Bailey Mes with a few minutes remaining.

The third quarter was crucial.

New Zealand coach Janine Southby made five changes at half time in an effort to bring ‘movement and energy’. She switched Mes and Folau, brought Claire Kersten into the game and shuffled her midcourt.

Neville replaced her captain Agbeze with Ebony Beckford-Chambers, in a move she later said was to ‘put more body’ on Folau.

Beckford-Chambers matched up on Mes, who was unable to make an impact on the game. In the two quarters she was on court she shot three goals, had two assists and made four turnovers in repeated attempts to reset the ball to get a shot closer to the post.

England needed a leader, and their superstars stepped up in the second half. Serena Guthrie marshalled the midcourt and worked to provide an option for every pass. Geva Mentor came up with crucial intercepts, rebounds and deflections.

Serena Guthrie. Photo: Simon Leonard

Folau kept New Zealand in the game, playing almost a lone shooting hand while her shooting partners failed to settle. But the long-range shooting tactic can’t single-handedly win games, Folau missing 23 per cent of the time. Mes’ rebounding abilities are one of her strengths, but Beckford-Chambers and Geva Mentor boxed her under the post to quell her influence.

Maria Folau in action. Photo: Simon Leonard

England won the quarter by four, which gave them a six-goal lead at the final break.

Selby-Rickit replaced Mes for the final quarter. New Zealand reduced the margin to four goals through an intercept by Grant, but the Roses held their nerve. Housby and Harten shot an equal number of goals, but it was Housby who looked the calmer of the two.

The defensive pressure that had kept New Zealand in the match began to wane. As the game slipped away in the final five minutes, England found space to push out to a nine-goal margin.

Southby rued her team’s shooting woes and 20 turnovers – double that of England.

“Ultimately, shooting accuracy wasn’t up there. It was a lot of pressure on Maria to keep nailing the long ones and one person can’t carry the load of two, they’ve got to share it and we didn’t do that well enough today. I thought defensively we got enough gains, we just weren’t accurate enough on attack.”

Tracey Neville was buoyant after the game, praising her team’s ability to close out the game. There has been hype around the English team for many years, but at the previous Commonwealth Games they couldn’t close out the big games.

“We’ve done a lot off the court on behaviours of the team, how we want people to see us and the culture, how we want to appear on the court and that just showed it tonight. It was guts that got us through that performance,” said Neville.

While the result didn’t push the Silver Ferns out of contention for a medal, it is a blow to their confidence. They are a team that can run with the best, but only when all components are working together. Southby continues to search for answers as a semi-final against Australia awaits.

Helen Housby celebrates. Photo: Simon Leonard

England 54 def New Zealand 45

England
Housby 27/32 84%
Harten 27/31 87%
54/63%

New Zealand
Folau 30/39 77%
Mes 3/4 75%
Selby-Rickit 12/19 63%
45/62 73%

 

Janine Southby, New Zealand Coach

“I thought we had a strong start. Second quarter started to just fade off some of the work that we’d been doing, so we made some changes and unfortunately that didn’t spark what we needed to do. Ultimately, shooting accuracy wasn’t up there. It was a lot of pressure on Maria to keep nailing the long ones and one person can’t carry the load of two, they’ve got to share it and we didn’t do that well enough today. I thought defensively we got enough gains, we just weren’t accurate enough on attack.”

What was the reason for the changes at half-time?
“Just get some movement and some energy going out there. When we get static we get in trouble. We got static and they started hunting and shutting us down. At this level you’ve got to keep being an option.”

On the defensive effort
“They’ve been working really hard on creating options for each other and creating the ability to get turnover ball, which I thought they did well today. Disappointingly we didn’t get that ball scored on attack and that’s frustrating.”

On the nervous wait for Uganda’s result against Scotland
“It’s frustrating that it’s not in our control and that’s the thing that we wanted to have was in our control and we’ve really let ourselves down in that space and that’s really disappointing.”

If Uganda doesn’t score enough the result of this game won’t affect the standings. Does that soften the blow?
“Nothing softens the blow when you lose like that and you have opportunities and you could take them. It’s just not good enough and that’s what we’ve got to own.”

If you make the semi-finals, what do you need to change?
“Just need to back themselves. Back themselves and believe. When we’ve got the ball in hand on attack, we keep it in hand on attack and we turn and shoot and put the ball through the hole.”

 

Tracey Neville, England coach

“Really pleased, I think this was about pride for us. I know we were guaranteed to finish top of the group, but we wanted to finish as we mean to go on in this tournament. Obviously there was a lot of nerves out there and you saw a lot of shaking on the ball. But them girls got themselves through it and I’m just really proud of the girls, and I was proud to lead them today.”

“For us it was about just getting a little bit of consistency; sighting each other, at times we got a bit nervy on the ball thinking there were no options available. But we talked about it through training and it was really clear, if we did that, this is what happens. That’s what got them through that. Congratulations to New Zealand and particularly Maria Folau, she’s like a shooting machine and to come through a game like that and just be the main shooter and shoot all the goals, she’s a world class player, they just missed out, like we missed out last time.”

Decision to bring Ebony Beckford-Chambers on at GD
“I think the decision was Ebony just for a bit of presence and a bit of body. I know Maria, she was the main play-maker and main goal shooter. In Quad (series) Ebony just give her a little bit of body and Maria struggled to get away from her. Ebony’s a little bit of a slower player. I think Ama did an exceptional job out there, I think it was more of a team effort. It was a case of give Ama rest, change it up and see if we can disrupt the play. I think that third quarter was exceptional and we were able to get on that 4 or 5 goal lead.”

On their opponent in the semi-final
“Obviously the game tonight is Australia v Jamaica, and irrespective of what happens we want to beat everybody in the competition. We’ll be watching that game with very much interest, because Jamaica have come into this tournament making a real hard statement in that New Zealand test series. They’re probably the underdogs because they’ve not really been on the international scene for a long time so we’ve just got to do our work. We’re not depending on them, we know we’ve got to play everyone to win and that’s what our aim is.”

If it is Jamaica that wins, how do you approach them?
“Is that saying that the Aussies are going to win? (laughs)… I think with Jamaica, what’s come out is they’re a real good possession team. With Uganda, we got a bit side-tracked by them because we couldn’t get ball off them. Last time we played them in 2016 we really struggled to get ball off them. We were able to convert our own opportunities but we couldn’t get ball off them, so that will be our main aim and tactic.

Every single Commonwealth, we’ve beat them, we’ve lost to them, we’ve beat them, we’ve lost to them. Normally we play them in a medal playoff, but to play them in a semi-final potentially, or Australia, we have to win it. They’ll be coming out fighting because at the end of the day, there’s a lot of teams in this competition on form and it will be really challenging.”

How has the team changed over recent times?
“I think it’s about the centralised program, about trying to create a culture, we’ve done a lot off the court on behaviours of the team, how we want people to see us and the culture, how we want to appear on the court and that just showed it tonight. It was guts that got us through that performance.”

On Geva Mentor
“I did make her laugh, I said ‘this girl is not retiring until she’s won a gold medal so can we end her career please!’ I did make a joke about that at the start. She’s just so experienced, to have her there at the back, she comes through when we really need her. You talk about people who start to dip at the end of their career, she’s just got better and better. She’s like a fine wine and she’s such a great person to have around the team as well.”

On Helen Housby
“I was really pleased with Helen, she’s had a few wobbles against New Zealand in the past and I think she absolutely took the responsibility on in that game when she really needed it and I think we’ll grow from this.”

 

Geva Mentor, England

“I think it’s important for us as a side. England have definitely beaten New Zealand in the last couple of years but we’ve never actually done it in a major tournament. So it’s a history making game for us right there. We mean business this tournament and we want to achieve it and go all the way into that gold medal final, we’ve got to beat every team.”

Her hopes for her fifth Commonwealth Games
“I’ve been in this game for so long now, and that elusive gold medal playoff game I’m yet to play in, so that’s my aim with this team. If we get ourselves there, then anything can happen. Now it’s do or die, every game counts. Two more to go, hopefully win the next one and set ourselves up nicely for that gold medal final”

What will make the difference in the semi-final?
“For us, it’s making sure that we stick to our game plan, making sure that we’re clinical. Any error or any mistake out there is gonna cost you a coupl’a goals, and that’s letting the team really getting into it and getting that momentum shift. For us, it’s important we take care of our own (possession), we still keep turning over the ball.”

How much time has she had with the Roses squad?
“Every time the seasons finish, I head back to the UK and have training camps there. This time the (English) girls actually came out, because the majority of us were out here training for pre-season (for Suncorp Super Netball). We had a week in Sydney, then a week in Brisbane, and we’ve been together for about three weeks before this tournament.”

 

Sam Sinclair, New Zealand

“We had it, and we lost it. I’m just really gutted, because I think we put really hard work into this game, and it was an absolute battle, and we stuck at it the whole time, but unfortunately we couldn’t finish it off in the crucial moments when we needed it. Tough loss. Really tough.”

Does she enjoy the battle?
“Oh yeah, I love it! You know, netball has evolved into a really physical game, and you have to be strong to be able to step up and take it on. And I love it, I love a bit of going hard, and putting everything out there and body on the line every game, because for that’s what it’s all about – all or nothing.”

The outcome of Uganda’s game and how that affects their medal changes
“It’s the rest of our tournament on the line now – I just hope that we’ve done enough in terms of goal difference. You have to remember that Silver Ferns have never not made the semis at Comm Games. That is weighing on our shoulders, and that is another reason to get up today and get the job done to make sure we’re safe. Obviously it didn’t happen.”

 

Helen Housby, England

“That was a good one wasn’t it! To be honest, we’ve got respect for any team we come up against, but when we go on the court, we don’t care who it is. I don’t care about humiliating them, honestly, and they were humiliated by Malawi, and we knew they were a wounded animal coming into this game, and we don’t care. We’re here for England, and we’re going to take it to them just as much. You know that’s gonna hurt for New Zealand, they’ve lost two, which I don’t think they’ve ever really done before in the rounds. To be honest, that’s music to my ears, because I don’t really care about New Zealand’s results, I care about Engalnd’s, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

On how players reacted to their own mistakes during the match
“This means so much, you know, we’ve never beaten New Zealand in a big comp like this, in the round games. If we make a mistake we’re back on defence and we get the ball back, and that’s the mentality of the team, so, I’m pleased with how we attacked that game, and we’re going to attack the next games just as hard.”

How she and Jo Harten managed to change up their play against excellent defence
“You can’t underestimate them, they are a world-class defence, and they’re always gonna be tough to play against. But it felt like we got the upper hand, you know I think we were building confidence, especially that first quarter is always a bit nervous and that’s kind of how it felt for both teams. From then, we put our foot down and we didn’t really let them back that close, which felt good.”

On how she has been on court quite a lot in the round games
“Me personally, I love it, I wanna get my hands to the ball, I wanna play, I wanna shoot, and I want to be in front of this crowd, so, I don’t care how many minutes I play, I do the job for the team for when I’m on the court.

To be honest, I had a smile on my face for most of that game, it feels good when you play good. I think this team plays our best when we’re smiling and when we’ve got fluid movement. Yeah I loved it out there, it’s not often that you get to play at a Comm Games in front of this kind of crowd, and play at your best. That’s when I’m playing my best, when I’m enjoying my netball. When you’re smiling, you connect to the people around you, and go from there.”

On how her first season playing in the Australia has helped her internationally
“Oh amazing – it almost feels like you’re playing a match like that every week in Suncorp Super Netball, so, they’ve prepared me so well in the Swifts environment, and yeah I can’t wait to get back to the girls and I know that they’ll be watching, so HI! if you’re reading this, Swifts girls, I love you! But yeah I love playing out in Australia and getting used to the style, and it’s definitely made me a better player.”

 

Ama Agbeze, England

“That’s a small tick, but we’re obviously here to win gold. So that’s a small tick, happy that we’ve done that but there’s more to come.”

“I’m pretty tired, my voice is a bit croaky from all the cheering on the bench. I think we’re just proud and pleased that we’ve managed to get through that game. Everyone’s going on that we’ve made history, but I think we just need to move forward from that game and look forward to who we’re going to be playing.”

Her match-up against Maria Folau
“Ria’s a brilliant player, she’s so calm and collected, she gets the ball and can shoot from anywhere which is a nightmare for defenders. It’s just about wearing her down. She likes to handle the ball, so making sure that she handles the ball where we want her to handle the ball, or sometimes just keeping her restricted so she can’t handle the ball. So lots of work for a defender.”

The different style Ebony Beckford-Chambers brings at GD
“I think Ebony’s probably more of a physical presence compared to me. So she really runs tight on a person body-on-body, and then I think I’m more looking for things, trying to close things down so other people might get the ball.”

What is the belief in the team like?
“I think since the start of the Games people have been saying England are the ones to watch. And so I think we’ve been pretty chilled. Until you do the work on the court you might be the one to watch, but it’s not going to come to fruition unless you put it out there.”

Her vote for player-of-the-match
“I think Serena did pretty well, but I think in the last quarter Geva stepped up, so one of those two.”