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Netball: Victory for England in INS opener
England claimed a 72-41 victory over Barbados at the LG Arena on Tuesday in the opener of a three match International Netball Series.
Head Coach Anna Mayes had named two new faces in her squad of 12 as Northern Thunder duo Laura Malcolm and Kerry Almond were to win their first caps. An incredible encounter, in which the hosts threatened to overrun their opponents, happened early on before some typical Caribbean flair kept the fans entertained, and this was all capped off with a presentation to England U21 coach Colette Thomson at the end of proceedings, the ex-England star awarded honorary life membership.
There was an early indication of the fun that the travelling side would bring as the Bajan squad danced along to their theme music as part of their pre-game warm-up. This was a favourite when they appeared in the World Netball Championships last year and once more delighted the fans yesterday. England ran through their drills and were looking incredibly focused as the national anthems brought the crowd to their feet, anticipation firmly in the air ahead of the match.
A mixture of youth and experience was the order of the day in the starting seven for the hosts as a Surrey Storm heavy attacking unit was backed up in defence by Laura Malcolm, Gemma Fletcher and the returning Naida Hutchinson. It was a fantastic moment for the Hertfordshire Mavericks defender who has battled back from the knee injuries that have hampered her career over the previous two years. Mayes’ side were instantly in their groove and the speed of the mid-court and defensive pressure meant there was no time for the visitors to pick their passes. A string of tidy interceptions and smart passing from Sara Bayman and Tamsin Greenway allowed the Pamela Cookey and Rachel Dunn combination to shoot England into a 5-0 lead.
The visitors were slowly starting to get themselves into the contest and Piggott was shining in particular as she netted a beautiful long range attempt to get the Bajans in the crowd dancing again. It was to be a brief respite for the Caribbean side as England continued to pour forward and relentlessly attack, Bayman was taking her fine form from the Superleague into this fixture as she showed her classy movement in the mid-court to set-up Cookey to increase the advantage. A full throttle first quarter ended 23-12 in England’s favour.
Just the one change was made by the hosts as Rachel Shaw replaced captain Cookey in GA, the visitors brought Bruce into GK and Croney on at WA. The excitement and intensity from the opening fifteen minutes calmed somewhat at the start of the second quarter, as both sides struggled to penetrate the opponent’s defence and there was a fair bit of ball juggling in the mid-court. The incisiveness was lacking and the scoring became slow. Barbados were pressuring the ball a lot faster in this period and were posing more problems for their hosts as the notoriously slow starters were gaining some momentum. A nice combination from Greenway, Shaw and Dunn allowed England to keep the Bajans at arms-length, leading 26-15 after the opening exchanges.
With the emphasis switching from attack to defence it was the turn of Malcolm to shine. The young Thunder WD has had a phenomenal season so far and she was gaining more and more fans with her agile performance and two athletic interceptions in a row drew roars of appreciation from the home support. It was an odd quarter in which England looked comfortable but were culpable of committing basic errors. The score line was still dominated by the hosts but the level of performance had dropped and the crowd, in which some would have been dreaming of the magical three figures following the blistering start, were noticeably quietened by the visitors play. As the teams headed off court for half-time, England had forged 38-19 ahead.
The interval provided the ideal chance for a re-group and for substitutions to be made. A new defensive duo took to the court for England as debutant Almond lined up alongside birthday girl Emma Dovey who was taking to the court on the day she turned 21. There was reason to rejoice in the Corbin household too as Sasha and Kadeen went into WA and GS respectively. Cookey was brought back into GA in the final change for Mayes’ side. Browne and Searly were brought into the action for the visitors as Anna Shepherd looked to build on a positive second quarter.
With Jade Clarke absent, the captain’s responsibility was with Cookey and she stepped up at the start of the third quarter to lead her side from the front. The experienced attacker was drifting into the mid-court and combining brilliantly with both Corbin sisters as England started to re-ignite the spark from the opening quarter. At the other end of the court, Piggott was looking as composed as ever and was continuing to sink shots from the edge of the circle. With England continuing to remain on top, 47-23 in front midway through the quarter, there was a nasty looking collision for Bruce in the Bajan defence and she was carried from the court. The break in play allowed both teams to take a well-deserved breather; this was the cue for both attacks to take control and following some traded scores from Cookey and Searly, the gap had moved to 25 with the hosts leading 54-29.
England remained unchanged at the start of the final quarter, the visitors brought Browne back in at GS as they looked to close the deficit and continue their improved form. After a slow start to the final fifteen minutes, England once again started to find the form that had seen them race into a dominant position early on. Bayman and Corbin were excellent in the middle third with the Thunder mid-courter’s brilliant vision being matched by the athleticism of the Mavericks attacker.
Malcolm continued to read the game expertly, intercepting the Bajan transition at will and propelling her side forward. Cookey and Corbin remained composed in the circle and England headed towards a 30 point winning margin. A last ditch score from Cookey made sure that it was smiles all round for the hosts who had won convincingly despite only playing to their potential in patches throughout the match. The final result was a fair reflection on proceedings but England will once again be looking to up the consistency of their game heading into the next match in Bath on Thursday.
Player of the Match: Laura Malcolm
England: GK – Hutchinson, GD – Fletcher, WD – Malcolm, C – Bayman, WA – Greenway, GA – Cookey, GS – Dunn
Bench: Dovey, Shaw, K.Corbin, S.Corbin, Almond
Barbados: GK – Niles, GD – Blackman, WD – Marville, C – Smith, WA – Springer, GA – Piggott, GS – L.Browne
Bench: S.Browne, Bruce, Croney, Holder, Searly
England Netball Report, www.englandnetball.co.uk
Sportsister, The Women’s Sport Magazine