Netball Expert & Columnist
England Roses' tour to South Africa answered as many questions as it posed
Last Updated: 03/12/19 5:11pm
Following the successful series for England's Vitality Roses in South Africa, Tamsin Greenway looks at the positive aspects that Roses will take away from their tour, the questions it posed and at how England move forwards towards the Vitality Nations Cup in January.
Well, it was an exciting series in South Africa, wasn't it? These days, you can't go to South Africa and have it all your own way, and England were certainly tested.
Even though both sides were fielding two relatively different teams to the ones that we saw at the Netball World Cup in Liverpool, the competitiveness remained. Absolutely full credit to England for winning the series because I think that was an important thing for them to do.
Roses returning home with confidence
Jess Thirlby believes her England Roses squad will take great confidence away from their series victory in South Africa.
I speak a lot about culture and the Roses has developed and evolved theirs over time - four or five years ago the Roses found themselves in positions during Tests, like extra-time or goal-for-goal games, and they wouldn't have been able to grind them out.
Now, with the culture that's come through the Tracey Neville era, the Roses know how to win games and they have the mental capacity to work through those difficult moments. Players like Nat Haythornthwaite, Stacey Francis, Jade Clarke and the other more experienced members had the belief and knew how to use it.
South Africa had many opportunities throughout the first two Tests where they could have taken it to England or pulled away and they didn't, they didn't show the same type of grit, it's something that develops over time through key leaders.
The Roses squad should come away from this tour and be really happy about the resilience that they showed in the vital moments. However, what the third highlighted was that some of England's youngsters, who haven't had that regular exposure to the culture or the pressure, need more time.
Personally, I always felt this tour was going to answer as many questions as it was going to pose. I truly believe that has been the case and my first big questions is around the GK position.
We know that Geva Mentor hasn't retired but we also have to be realistic, she can't continue forever, four years is a very long time and England need to think about who's next in that defensive circle when she decides to step away.
I thought Stacey Francis came in and did very well, but when South Africa played their bigger shooting unit at times England were isolated at the back. Stacey is a hunter, being there relies on a lot of people in front of her doing their work well and if they do, it means that she can play her game.
If she is the next choice at GK, then Jess Thirlby and England need to work on the style out in front of her. This was particularly highlighted when Raz Quashie was in at GK.
She is not the tallest so it's the partnership that helps her succeed and win ball. With both Francis and Kate Shimmin playing so tight and man on through the court at GD, it left the GKs to fend for themselves. Whereas Fran Williams, dropping and switching with Francis was extremely effective.
Partnerships matter and not just in the circle, out in front is important too. The third Test highlighted how a smaller defensive line-up did not do England any favours, with Nat Panagarry in at WD she was unable to answer the ball going over her head and is far more effective when she can hustle.
England are going to want to answer these questions quickly to make sure they've got a plan in place for when it comes to playing against the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica.
Vitality Nations Cup 2020 - All live on Sky Sports
|January 19||England vs New Zealand||Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham|
|Jamaica vs South Africa|
|January 22||England vs South Africa||Arena Birmingham|
|Jamaica vs New Zealand|
|January 25||England vs Jamaica||Copper Box Arena, London|
|New Zealand vs South Africa|
|January 26||1st vs 2nd place match||Copper Box Arena, London|
|3rd vs 4th place match|
The third Test was challenging for England, and also posed more questions. I understand and wanted the changes to the line-up, but I think that it was tough for players like Sophie Drakeford-Lewis.
She had sat on the bench for the first two games, got a start and as I've said all along, it's much harder for an attacker to come on and make such an impact. It wasn't a bad performance from her but it wasn't at the level that I think she can play at.
Despite a lot of the players in the South African side not used to being in the starting line-up, most have still been in and around the squad in Tests and major competitions.
In England's squad some of the players on tour haven't had exposure to the squad and the environment in the same way. Even the more experienced club players, like Ellie Cardwell and Laura Malcolm as examples, haven't been exposed hugely at Test level.
It raised some questions as to how England go about up-skilling these players to a point where they can step out onto the international stage and be totally prepared whether that be through the full-time programme, the Superleague or future selections.
Fran Williams was exceptional, but she has had World Cup exposure, she was prepared, she understood what her role was and I thought that she was brilliant in defence with Stacey.
I also have to mention Natalie Haythornthwaite, who I'd been excited to see. She was fantastic, really took her opportunity to lead that team and although it was difficult for her in that third Test, she never stopped trying to push her side on.
Looking ahead to the Vitality Nations Cup in January I think that South Africa will mentally step up again knowing they can push the top sides.
New Zealand and Jamaica will be trying people out but, the Silver Ferns in particular, always have a head start in that area because their new players have already been exposed to top level competition. For England, I think that the squad for the Nations Cup will have to look slightly different to the one that went to South Africa.
I think that Jess Thirlby will have got an idea about some of her players and the styles of play, but will know England are going to have to inject a couple more individuals into the mix, if they really want to compete with the likes of New Zealand.
The players that were in South Africa will be aware that this was their first time together and they'll be happy that they came out with a win. But, they also know that come January it will be a very different test again.
Sky Sports is your home of netball and live action returns with the Vitality Nations Cup in January 2020. The four-nation competition starts on January 19 with England taking on the world champions New Zealand.