Netball Expert & Columnist
England's balancing act and South Africa's objectives create a fascinating series
Watch all three of England's Tests live on Sky Sports and via our YouTube stream on November 29, 30 and December 1
Last Updated: 27/11/19 2:23pm
As England's Roses fly towards their first televised Tests under new head coach Jess Thirlby, Tamsin Greenway looks at the specifics of this tour from an English perspective and some of South Africa's key objectives in Cape Town.
This trio of Tests will be a great opportunity for both sides and the beauty of starting a new four-year cycle with a new squad, is that you do get some leeway.
Within both England and South Africa's camps we know that there are some big players missing - either retired or resting. So I see this as a great and 'relaxed' Test series given its timing and the squads that have been selected.
In saying that, it does not mean that both sides won't still want to go out there and win the series 3-0, they will, but there's a balance to be achieved too.
If the coaches are genuinely interested in building for the next four years then you would expect them to use this series as a real chance to put certain players into some key positions.
Neville and Agbeze join Sky Sports for Tests
Tracey Neville and Ama Agbeze will join our Sky Sports team for the Vitality Roses' series and all three matches will be streamed on YouTube
When it comes to doing that, I think South Africa have an easier task than England due to the squad they have available and that Dorette Badenhorst has selected.
First, they need to try and find a new GA after the retirement of Maryka Holtzhausen. They know Lenize Potgieter is so strong in the shooter position and it's about partnering up with her.
They have Renske Stoltz, but I think that they will be looking at Ine-Marí Venter to see if she can step up? She has had lots of training experience in Australia in the last season so it's about now seeing if she can elevate herself into that starting role.
The big loss for them will be GD - Karla Pretorius - as she takes a break from the international stage. However, Phumza Maweni [GK] has really come into her own since moving to Sunshine Coast Lightning alongside Pretorius and will be the perfect partner to help bleed another defender through.
However, I really hope when the Nations Cup comes around in January we will see Pretorius back in the green dress because she's still the best player in the world in that position.
I would quite like to see Bongi Msomi back in C now that Erin Burger has retired - I personally think that's her best position. Elsewhere in South Africa's mid-court, I will certainly be keeping an eye on Izette Griesel, who got court time during the World Cup, and, of course, Khanyisa Chawane, who is joining Team Bath next season.
The SPAR Proteas, although they have had a couple of key retirements and Pretorius taking a break, by in large they have kept the majority of their squad together. Although it's the start of a new four-year cycle, I think they should be really excited.
They have got enough bulk and experience left in there to both handle and support the key changes, as well as some new prospects wanting to establish themselves moving forward.
Series Fixtures - Streamed live on Sky Sports YouTube channel too
|November 29||South Africa vs England||4.30pm on Sky Sports Mix, Arena & Main Event|
|November 30||South Africa vs England||12.30pm on Sky Sports Mix & Arena|
|December 1||South Africa vs England||10:30am on Sky Sports Mix|
For Jess Thirlby it's a very different challenge in front of her to the one that Badenhorst will be looking to decipher in Cape Town.
Why? Well, you have not had the big retirements or in fact any official retirements so Thirlby will know that at some point the players that are not there now, the likes of Geva Mentor, Jo Harten, Serena Guthrie, Helen Housby to name a few, are probably going to come back into the fold.
With that comes key questions to answer as to how you approach this tour. Do you experiment strongly knowing players are going to come back and return into these key positions? Or do you just focus hard on winning the Test series 3-0 and perhaps not experiment quite so much to get the whitewash?
For example take the defensive end with Mentor, Layla Guscoth, Jodie Gibson and Eboni Usoro-Brown all still in the mix, would you look at giving Stacey Francis and Kate Shimmin - the two more experienced defenders with Suncorp groundings - the majority of the court time to handle Potgeiter? Or do you go with Razia Quashie and Fran Williams, England's exciting youngsters? It becomes a tough call.
This way of thinking crosses over in to all areas. When the squad was announced I was quite vocal with my disappointment about the mid-court, not because I don't rate the players within it, just because I think it was a really safe option.
We're all aware that those four mid-courters [Laura Malcolm, Natalie Panagarry, Natalie Haythornthwaite and Jade Clarke] are not going to be the four players to take England through to a next Commonwealth Games and World Cup, with those coming back. So surely it was a chance to look at a key youngster like Gabby Marshall or Iona Christian? But, do you need to if you know others will return? It's almost harder for Thirlby with too many options.
I should imagine with the squad they have taken, regardless of whether they are talking about it openly or not, England will be looking to get a whitewash in South Africa. They will want to win this Test series.
I'm not sure the pursuit of a 3-0 result should be the be-all and end-all, I'm hoping we get to see some of the fresh talent in exciting combinations. However, whatever the choices, I hope that England are vocal about their intentions in Cape Town.
Both on and off the court, it's going to be the first chance for these players to be with Jess (Thirlby) properly on an international tour. They have done a training tour, but this is a whole different kettle of fish and one that comes with all of the pressures of televised international series.
Looking at the matches as a whole, there are a lot of different elements that I'm eager to see unfold over the course of the series.
We are moving from a big character like Tracey Neville, who is very vocal and passionate on the sideline, to someone with a different style. I'm really looking forward to see Thirlby's style how she manages the squad and changes and of course how her personality shines through.
England's 14-player squad for South Africa
|George Fisher||Natalie Panagarry|
|Eleanor Cardwell||Stacey Francis|
|Kadeen Corbin||Kate Shimmin|
|Sophie Drakeford-Lewis||Fran Williams|
|Natalie Haythornthwaite (C)||Razia Quashie|
|Jade Clarke||Gabriella Marshall|
|Laura Malcolm (VC)||Summer Artman|
I'm also going to be looking out for any tactical changes as well with this fairly new group taking to court together. They have had quite a lot of time to train, most have been in the full-time programme since September, so how will this side work structurally?
Thirlby is a great technical coach, so when it comes to patterns and tactical elements, it will be fascinating to see how they develop over the course of this Test series, and how it will begin to mould this new era for the Roses.
Whatever the outcome at the weekend, one thing is for sure this should be a cracking, tightly contested international series, that I'm sure will pose as many questions as it will answer about these teams and their next journey. I can't wait to sit back and watch.
Sky Sports is your home of netball and live action returns with this three-Test tour to South Africa. The first Test from the Velodrome in Cape Town will be shown on November 29 at 5.00pm and will be streamed worldwide on YouTube.