Australia
GK Laura Geitz
GD April Brandley
WD Gabi Simpson
C Kim Ravaillion
WA Madison Robinson
GA Susan Pettitt
GS Caitlin Bassett

England
GK Geva Mentor
GD Eboni Beckford-Chambers
WD Beth Cobden
C Serena Guthrie
WA Chelsea Pitman
GA Helen Housby
GS Joanne Harten

England celebrates an historic win. Photo: Simon Leonard

The English Roses made history yesterday, winning their first Commonwealth gold medal against the Australian Diamonds.

England capped off a week of firsts – the first time beating New Zealand and Australia at a Commonwealth Games, the first time winning a semi-final, and the first time achieving a higher medal than bronze.

Australia looked unbeatable all tournament, notching up 21-goal wins against closest challengers Jamaica and New Zealand. England reached the gold medal match the hard way, snatching a last-second victory over Jamaica in the semi-final; and beating New Zealand and Uganda by less than ten in pool matches.

England’s defence, particularly through the midcourt, was a key to the win. After an even start, both teams found it hard to cut through the middle of court. Australia was under pressure for the first time in the tournament.

Serena Guthrie had the better of Kim Ravaillion in the centre court battle, cutting Ravaillion off and forcing her to make clearing runs. The disconnection flowed through to the circle, where Geva Mentor pressured Caitlin Bassett into moving off her hold, which put doubt in the mind of the Australian feeders. Mentor excelled in her first gold medal match in her fifth Commonwealth Games appearance.

Serena Guthrie was huge for England. Photo: Simon Leonard

Despite the turnovers England created, they were unable to draw ahead due to saving work in defence from April Brandley, Laura Geitz and Gabi Simpson. Australia settled slightly towards the end of the quarter, but was unable to pull away, taking the smallest of leads into quarter-time.

Australia looked nervous, while England was playing like they had nothing to lose.

Liz Watson replaced Ravaillion at C for the second quarter and immediately took an intercept, but Guthrie continued to make life hard for the Australian midcourt. The teams traded intercepts and turnovers, and scores levelled at half-time.

As was the case all tournament, Australian coach Lisa Alexander made wholesale changes at half-time, replacing both her circles. The changes worked seamlessly all week, but this was the first time they were tested in a pressure situation with scores level.

Mentor disrupted the flow of the new attack line, stifling Caitlin Thwaites and forging England ahead with deflections to advantage. Jo Harten, who had looked uncomfortable during the semi-final, shot confidently.

Australia rallied with better connections in attack. Wood started to find some space through the middle of the circle and sunk seven mid-range shots to keep Australia alive. England again drew out to a lead after a third dubious stepping call went against Australia, but Wood’s clutch shooting pulled the lead back.

Steph Wood drives the baseline. Photo: Simon Leonard

With four minutes left in the third quarter, England coach Tracey Neville showed she was not afraid of making changes, and brought Kadeen Corbin on at GA for Helen Housby. The move was short-lived after Corbin threw the ball away and Australia pressed ahead to lead by two at three-quarter time.

Periods of momentum were fleeting for both teams. Gabi Simpson gained possession for Australia twice in the last quarter, which gave her team a four-goal lead.

Neville made more changes, the most decisive with nine minutes left. Natalie Haythornthwaite replaced Chelsea Pitman at WA, which added speed to the midcourt. Housby and Harten switched positions, which defenders Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce were slow to adjust to.

The oldest and most experienced Australian players watched helplessly from the bench – World and Commonwealth champions Laura Geitz, Madi Robinson, Susan Pettitt and Caitlin Thwaites.

Six of the seven youngest Australians were on court. Four of them were World Cup and Commonwealth Games debutants. Inexperience showed in the defensive circle, Australia drawing 22 contact penalties in the last quarter, most of them under the whistle of umpire Jono Bredin. Total contacts for the previous three quarters had been 28.

Support from the bench. Photo: Simon Leonard

With a four-goal lead and seven minutes left, the game was Australia’s to lose. Two unfortunate errors came through a fumble and Ravaillion committing a horror not-wholly-within-the-centre-circle mistake. England levelled the scores with less than four minutes left.

The dramatic final minutes were a scramble. Guthrie succumbed to the ankle injury she has carried all tournament. With less than two minutes to go, Jade Clarke replaced her, notching up her 150th test cap in the process.

As the game drew to a close, Harten missed a long-range shot that was rebounded. Australia levelled the scores, but England had the centre pass with less than 20 seconds left. Another missed shot by Harten looked set to send the game into overtime, but Bruce was called for a penalty under the goal post.

Housby coolly slotted the goal and the English team erupted into wild celebrations.

Housby after shooting the winning goal. Photo: Marcela Massey

The Australian team and crowd were shell-shocked, in disbelief. This was an English team that had lifted the semi-final monkey off its’ back and played free of expectations. By contrast, the Australian team had looked more worried about losing the game than trying to win it.

This was a great example of the beauty of sport and the spirit of the Commonwealth Games – the favourite can falter on the day; the underdog can play above themselves; tiny moments of drama, error, brilliance all combine to create a story that becomes part of the fabric of an athlete’s career. The good, bad, disappointments and joy. The highs that reward the hard work and sacrifice; the lows that help them better appreciate the highs. The heartache that helps them savour the achievements.

Congratulations England.

England 52 def Australia 51

The medal ceremony. Photo: Simon Leonard

England
Joanne Harten 34/39 87%
Helen Housby 18/21 86%
Total 52/60 87%

Australia
Susan Pettitt 11/12 92%
Caitlin Bassett 22/24 92%
Steph Wood 12/14 86%
Caitlin Thwaites 6/6 100%
Total 51/56 91%

Tracey Neville, England Coach

“What a moment! It was a dream as a player and I’m living it as a coach. Remarkable performance tonight. I think the opportunity we could have won it by more in that first quarter, but they’re world champions and we’ll take any win that comes to us.

The crowd was their eighth player, they were such a force to be reckoned with, and the form they had in this tournament was absolutely exceptional. We knew we had to put out the most clinical performance of our lives today and I think we really tested that today. Them couple of changes really helped our side, and that’s a win!”

The stress of the final minutes
“I said to them ‘can you win by a few more goals, because it’s not pleasurable on the bench’! (laughs) If we’d have gone to extra time I think we would have struggled, our players were absolutely dead on their feet. Luckily just a careless mistake, an obstruction, gave us a second chance at the goal. A missed shot, you want the close shots. We had one yesterday, a shooter put it away, we had another one today and we had a shooter put it away, and that’s what makes us world class.”

How has her team improved since the 2015 World Cup?
“I think world netball, the Quad series and players moving abroad, the standard has risen. Our players who are out here experience this level on a regular basis … When we play Australia, you see a sea of gold. I told the girls ‘when we cut each other open, everyone bleeds red. We drive the scoreboard, we take it to the end’, and they did everything it takes to win.”

Lisa Alexander, Australia Coach

“We never got going from the start, and we couldn’t get enough ball off them. We looked flat, who knows what it was. It was disappointing. When you’ve got momentum like England had, and if we don’t work hard enough on attack and defence which we did not do today like we’ve done in the previous matches, that’s what you’re going to get.”

The changes she made
“At the end of the day we made choices that we thought would help, but clearly it was not successful in the end. It’s disappointing, but you’ve got to pay tribute to England, they played extremely well today.”

What were the half-time instructions?
“Just to dig deep, pressure makes Diamonds, all those kind of things. It just wasn’t their day today.”

Was there a lack of experience on court?
“At the end of the day you could say that, but they’re very experienced players in their Suncorp Super Netball teams.”

Will this experience do them good?
“Terrific, yes.”

Is this the beginning of a new rivalry?
“It will be now, particularly with the World Cup in Liverpool.”

Have we made a rod for our own back, allowing unlimited imports in Suncorp?
“Yes … that’s our high performance system working for another country. I don’t get it.”

Would you like a change?
“I don’t get to make that decision. I’ve said all along that the danger is putting money into another countries’ high performance outcomes. We get judged on gold medals, so clearly the AIS and others are not going to be happy with this.”

Is it better for netball globally?
“Of course it is, but that doesn’t help me, and my job as a national coach, alright. So at the end of the day, it’s tough. We still should’ve been able to win today. We didn’t play well enough, England played very, very well.”

What do you say to the girls
“This is a huge tournament, they should hold their heads up high, they’ve been brilliant all week. They just did not, they were not clinical when it counted at the end. We made mistakes in the centre court, just not on. We hadn’t been making those mistakes.”

Helen Housby, England

“We were content with being bronze medallists, but that’s changed and this is what we want from now on. It’s just incredible, netball’s heading in the right direction with the professionalism. The league in the UK is catching up with the Aussie and New Zealand leagues, and hopefully this boosts it even more.”

The difference between the final and the semi-final?
“To be honest, I felt more pressure yesterday and the team agreed. The semi-final match has been the bogey for England in the past. I think it means more in the grand scale of things, whether you guarantee yourself a medal or whether you don’t.

This final, we were coming away with a medal that was better than we ever had, but the Aussies had something to lose because they were expected for gold. All the way through it’s been built up that they were clear favourites, and I think that played in our advantage, and we just went out there and played a relaxed game. We were more controlled, because we were just happy to be out there in that grand final game. It meant a lot to put that game plan out and get that win. I can’t believe it to be honest.”

Serena Guthrie, England

“This feels incredible. Not only a career highlight, but a life highlight. To go out and do what we did today, in Australia, against Australia, and win by one. I’m lost for words. I’m so proud of our girls, and our families and our coaching team that just supported us through this journey.”

What was the game plan?
“We executed it perfectly, especially in the attack end. We knew how we needed to play against them in order to get that swing ball around the top and keep our ball speed up. But they came out and played amazingly as well. It was an excellent game of netball to be involved in, and it was so nice to be on the right side of that one goal score line.”

Your midcourt performance
“When you’ve got Madi Robinson in the front line you’ve got your work cut out for you, she’s one of the best. I think today we slowed them up just enough to force a few errors. They capitalised on them, and sometimes that’s all you need to do, just get those little wins. They did the same to us, and it ebbed and it flowed.”

How huge is this leading into World Cup?
“It’s massive. Home World Cup, I couldn’t enjoy the build up more. So lets celebrate, regroup, get back home at the end of the season and come back together in 2019.”

Performance of your shooters
“I’m very proud of those two – they stood up today when it counted and got us that win.”

Geva Mentor, England

“It is so surreal, my legs are still shaking, I can’t believe what we managed to achieve. Its quite weird but I felt like we had control all the way through, there were some momentum shifts throughout the game. But testament to this group of girls, we just know when to strike and we did it again just like we did it yesterday, and I’m so, so proud of them.”

How did your game plan break down Australia?
“I think we knew it was going to be a tough encounter, we knew we’d have the crowd against us and they’d been in dominating form throughout. So for us it was about sticking to task, trying to wear them down. We know they probably haven’t come up against as much defensive pressure as we can apply, and I thought the girls defensively did an outstanding job all over court.”

Were Australia challenged in pool A?
“I think it’s exciting playing the Commonwealth Games, because you are coming up against so many different styles of netball. This is a different challenge. For us as an England side, we are able to play on, tight, we are able to play off, so mix up between that. So for the Aussies to come up against that, it’s something they’re not used to. Definitely that one on one marking.”

Is this the beginning of a new rivalry?
“I really hope so. For England we’ve been talking the talk for a number of years now, and the belief in this squad has been inspiring.”

What does it mean to you?
“I’ve been at it for almost 20 years now, and to be able to achieve it in my fifth Commonwealth Games. It’s definitely been eluding me, I’ve always dreamed that we can go all the way and I think you have to as a sportsperson, and that’s why it’s so gutting when you don’t walk away with your achievements.

We’ve always had the skill and the talent, but it’s knowing how to win, knowing how to grind out those games, knowing how to play the clock as well and play that score board. I think that’s we’ve really learned over a number of these matches, playing smart netball and playing as a team, and making sure we’re all on the same page.”

Are you going to another World Cup?
“Absolutely. It’s Liverpool. The body feels great. I’ve obviously got a long season ahead of me with Sunshine Coast Lightning, back into the international program, build up for a home World Cup next year and just really see how the body is going and take it year by year.”

You have great support here in Australia
“I’ve really appreciated the support that I’ve had this week, and when I walk out the cheers that I get. I’m a Queensland girl based on the Sunshine Coast, and I hope they will get behind us too.”

Has playing in the Suncorp Super Netball competition helped?
“I think it’s had a tremendous impact. Before we’ve had the skill and the talent, but we just haven’t had mental belief and be able to grind out games week in, week out. The games are so tough playing in the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN), and I think it’s given us the experience that we’ve been able to share with the new ones coming in and they know what it takes.”

Are you prepared for the Aussie backlash – why are we letting so many import players in to SSN?
“I think the Aussies aren’t so narrow minded. They want to make sure world netball is improving. They want to be the best, and for them to be the best they’ve got to play the best. I think they will still keep welcoming people in from all over the world, whether it’s England, Jamaica, South Africa, if it lifts their standard of play it will put netball in Australia in good hands as well.”

Does it give you confidence shifting different goal shooters on to you?
“I do like it, I like a challenge as well. Caity Thwaites has obviously been in outstanding form throughout this competition, so it’s nice to have a little battle against her and then playing against my club side of Steph Wood and Caitlin Bassett. Hopefully I’ll be able to have the last word over them for this season as well. The thing I love playing about goal keeper is the challenge these goal shooters impose on me.”

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