Quad Series 2023: England head coach Jess Thirlby calls for more 'maturity' ahead of Netball World Cup
England sealed third in the 2023 Quad Series by beating hosts South Africa in Wednesday's third-place play-off; the Roses suffered defeats to Australia and New Zealand to miss out on a place in the final
Last Updated: 26/01/23 8:09am
England head coach Jess Thirlby praised her side for showing "grit" to seal third place in the Quad Series but has admitted more "maturity" is needed ahead of this summer's Netball World Cup.
The Roses came through a tightly contested third-place play-off against hosts South Africa to claim a first victory in their four matches at the tournament.
England had drawn with South Africa in the opening phase of the tournament, either side of defeats to champions Australia and runners-up New Zealand.
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The competition marked the final opportunity for England - and their rivals - to prepare for the World Cup, which begins on July 28 in Cape Town.
"It was scrappy, it wasn't the prettiest of wins," Thirlby told Sky Sports. "But I think given the journey through the Quad Series that we've had, I thought it was a good way for us to finish and show the grit, in particular, that I think this team have become known for."
"It's been a good journey. We've just got to keep finding away to compete with those ranked above us.
"We're respectful of the likes of New Zealand and Australia, but we've actually found ways to get a foothold against them, which is a little bit of new territory for us that we've got to grow a maturity around how to finish those games and punish them more."
The Quad Series quickly followed England's three-match home contest with Jamaica, against whom Thirlby's side delivered an impressive 2-1 triumph.
England are ranked third in the word, a place ahead of Jamaica. Australia top the rankings from New Zealand, while South Africa are fifth.
"In the couple of weeks after this, there's going to be so much information for us to take, and it's important to acknowledge that," Thirlby said.
"These games are here for a purpose. We put ourselves out in two back-to-back series, it's a big ask of the group but it's exactly what we needed ahead of the summer."
The Quad Series brings to an end a congested period for England, which saw them miss out on a medal at a home Commonwealth Games in the summer, and then beat Uganda at home before losing 3-0 as they toured Australia in October and November.
"I don't think I can combat all of the noise and the criticisms, but I will absolutely defend this group to the hilt," Thirlby said.
"Their cohesion, togetherness and loyalty to one and other is unquestionable. They review wins and losses exactly the same way, which is exactly what any championship winning side that's on track to try to learn to win more consistently should be doing.
"So this team for me, they're the most together group that I've worked with and it's an absolute joy to see their team resilience grow over the course of January."
'No ignoring Fadoju' | 'Wrap her up in cotton wool'
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of England's performances during the Quad Series was the continued emergence of Funmi Fadoju, who has established herself as a key player ahead of the World Cup.
Having made her senior international debut against Uganda in October, the 20-year-old defender looks set to become one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Her brilliance was on show against South Africa as a series of turnovers helped England to victory.
"There's no ignoring Funmi Fadoju," Thirlby said. "If there's anyone to give a little bit more credit to, I think it's Funmi today.
"She really picks her moments, with such maturity, to sense that intuition when in the game we need it the most.
"I just think her contribution was excellent, but those around her really allow her to flourish."
Former England player Pamela Cookey agreed with Thirlby's assessment that the Roses have found the ideal setup to allow Fadoju to thrive.
"This was the defensive team that we know and love," Cookey said on Sky Sports.
"That support that Fadoju had from Geva (Mentor) at the back allows her to go and play out the front - she had Jade (Clarke) at centre and Layla (Guscoth) at wing defence.
"That combination is safe, it's tried, it's tested and we've seen them get so much ball, so once you put that on there, she can then fly."
Former Roses player Tamsin Greenaway was also wowed by Fadoju's performance, but expressed concern over England's deficiencies in attack.
"Defensively, they were brilliant," Fadoju said. "I can't fault it all through the court, they are doing such a good job.
"But attack was static at times, the highest quarter was a 13-goal quarter. Even if that last quarter where Funmi got us about seven balls, we still only put 13 on the board.
"We're going to have to look it and adjust. I think playing the strongest line-up just helps you get a good run."Defensively brilliant, and just wrap Funmi in cotton wool (until the World Cup)."