England Netball: Jess Thirlby trusts team to feed off energy and pressure of home Commonwealth Games
England start the defence of their title on Friday against Trinidad and Tobago at Birmingham's NEC Arena; the outfit must win seven matches in 10 days if they are to retain the title they won in 2018 on the Gold Coast
Last Updated: 28/07/22 7:29am
Team England's netball squad have arrived at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as the defending champions and the Vitality Roses' head coach, Jess Thirlby, has backed her outfit to thrive under the white-hot pressure of a home tournament.
England will open the competition on Friday at noon against Trinidad and Tobago and the outfit must win seven matches in 10 days if they are to retain the title they won on the Gold Coast four years ago.
Back in 2018, England's final second triumph over Australia shook the world of netball. For the first time at a Commonwealth Games, a team other than New Zealand or Australia had triumphed.
The match and England's victory reframed the beliefs held by netballers across the globe and now, Thirlby's Vitality Roses have a chance to replicate that triumph and feat in front of their home fans.
- Commonwealth Games: Netball schedule and squads
- Meet Team England's netball squad selected for title defence
England enter as the third-ranked team in the world behind the Silver Ferns of New Zealand and the Australian Diamonds, but crucially the Roses have performed well against both in the build-up and have recent experience of taking to a home court for a major competition.
The Netball World Cup in 2019 was held in Liverpool and the highs and lows of England's bronze medal-winning campaign should be invaluable for this summer's Commonwealth Games.
"For us to be afforded the chance to have another big tournament on home soil so soon, probably will never happen again in our lifetimes," Thirlby told Sky Sports.
"It's really important to embrace it. That's easy to say but I really trust in this group, that they will use that to build energy rather than for it to defeat them or feel weighty.
"We're quite a good group at celebrating and building off the energy of our fanbase. To know that we have the ability to inspire another 128,000 people plus like we did in Liverpool, that's a real pleasure and a joy."
Team England Netball squad
|Imogen Allison||Eleanor Cardwell||Jade Clarke|
|Sophie Drakeford-Lewis||Stacey Francis-Bayman||Layla Guscoth|
|Jo Harten (vice-captain)||Helen Housby||Laura Malcolm|
|Geva Mentor||Nat Metcalf (captain)||Eboni Usoro-Brown|
Experienced Clarke invaluable to England
Someone who has been an ever-present part of England's journey since her debut in 2002 is mid-courter Jade Clarke.
Clarke is England's most-capped netballer of all-time with 185 international caps; this summer's Commonwealth Games will be her fifth and the 38-year-old remains as fit and sharp as ever.
This season, she's already illustrated time and again how pivotal she is to the teams she plays for, in particular when she singlehandedly inspired a match-winning turnaround against England's final Group B opponents New Zealand in January.
Her performance on that day truly cemented her place within Thirlby's Commonwealth squad, if it was ever in doubt in the first place.
On selection day, Thirlby made 23 back-to-back video calls to deliver the news to potential squad members and Clarke was as elated as if it was her first call-up.
"We've got such great depth so that made it a really exciting journey," she said. "It also meant that you didn't really know what was going to happen because there are so many players in form.
"We've got the older players like myself, Jo [Harten] and Geva [Mentor] and also amazing youngsters coming through all at the same time.
"They've all contributed to the journey and it's really the icing on the cake [to be selected]. I've had such a blast over the last three years and I'm really glad I decided to push on and carry on."
Team England - Commonwealth Games fixtures
|Friday, July 29||England vs Trinidad & Tobago|
|Saturday, July 30||England vs Malawi|
|Monday, August 1||England vs Northern Ireland|
|Tuesday, August 2||England vs Uganda|
|Thursday, August 4||New Zealand vs England|
|Saturday, August 6||Semi-final|
|Sunday, August 7||Final|
Tournament netball is a different ball game
England's campaign starts against Trinidad and Tobago on the first full day of the Games and then takes a relentless route towards their goal of the final from there.
Further group matches against Malawi, Northern Ireland and Uganda continue their progression, before a Thursday night showdown with the reigning world champions New Zealand.
At that point, the top two teams in each group will have a rest day before a weekend of knockout netball with the semi-finals on Saturday, August 6 and the bronze medal and gold medal matches on Sunday, August 7.
Tournament netball is brutal, even the most experienced players would say that it's a whole different ball game with seven games in 10 days and the need to elevate your performance in the closing games.
Jess Thirlby - England Netball's head coach
"Tournament netball requires a different mental and physical robustness that most of the group now have," Thirlby noted about tournament netball.
"I think that factor was more of an amplified consideration we had to take into account for the final selection, in Test netball maybe it's a little bit different."
Having already played in four Commonwealth Games and five Netball World Cups, Clarke is one of the most prepared members of England's squad for the intensity of what awaits them.
"It's a challenge but it's the best challenge ever," she said.
"You want to test yourself and you go into that tournament knowing that you can play your best netball by the end of it. Whether you're on the court or on the bench, you're fully there for the team giving everything you can."
Commonwealth Games - July 29 to August 7, NEC Arena
|Group A||Group B|
|Wales||Trinidad & Tobago|
The road to Birmingham | A tournament without Guthrie
England have been preparing for this Commonwealth Games since mid-2019 when Thirlby stepped into the role of head coach and took over from Tracey Neville.
In the ensuing period of time, Thirlby has notably increased the squad's depth. While England's Australia-based players were not able to regularly leave the country, others had to step up. The likes of Imogen Allison and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis significantly benefitted.
Meet Team England's Commonwealth Games netball squad
Get to know the athletes England Netball head coach Jess Thirlby has selected for Team England's title defence at this summer's Commonwealth Games.
Thirlby regularly exposed the entire group to finals netball and saw her athletes thrive on their respective domestic stages.
Layla Guscoth used a return to England to elevate her form further, Geva Mentor's Suncorp Super Netball performances showed that she's peaking ahead of her sixth Commonwealth Games and reserve George Fisher thrived in the ANZ Premiership.
Team highlights included a first Test series victory over the Silver Ferns in New Zealand and positive results against Jamaica and South Africa - although unfinished business remains when it comes to the Aussie Diamonds.
In March, a curveball was announced to the world in the form of captain Serena Guthrie not being part of their tournament in Birmingham. Guthrie is pregnant with her first child and has retired from the sport.
"Having Serena on the team, you just took inspiration from what she brought and you want to carry on the fun, joy and passion that she played with," Clarke said.
"No-one is going to replace her like-for-like but this tournament is going to be about everyone doing their part and the coaches sending us out there with 100 per cent belief that we can play our part for the team."
The belief that Clarke speaks of, and that Guthrie instilled in the team while she was on court, has remained. Thirlby noted that it plays a big part in their approach and has formed an agreement between them all.
"I don't think we really needed to talk about our intent to want to win," she said.
"When we were together and were talking about some of our key messages, no sooner had we been talking about something else, someone in the room would say, 'But we do want to win'. It's an unspoken thing that we all agree upon, that is our intent.
"You do have to respect our opposition and we need to have the humility to understand that we believe we can beat anyone, but we don't know the outcome of this tournament yet. We'll give it our best shot. We're arriving at the starting line in as good a position as we can off a really positive year."
Thirlby also understands the wider significance of having another major netball competition at home for a sport that wants to continue to grow and develop.
"We want people to still be talking about us for the next few years to come, irrelevant of the colour medal or if we get a medal," she added.
"The measure of us will be if people are still talking of us in a way that we want to be spoken about given our campaign."