Jess Thirlby says Vitality Roses can use New Zealand series as springboard
England Netball head coach Jess Thirlby used 14 of her 16 squad members during the three-Test series in New Zealand; Imogen Allison gained her first cap and Serena Guthrie recorded her 100th during the second Test in Hamilton
By Hannah Wilkes and Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 01/11/20 1:01pm
England's Vitality Roses' three-Test series in New Zealand was described as a "great springboard" by head coach Jess Thirlby, after the final Test on Sunday.
The touring party, despite not taking a game off their hosts, made life challenging for the world champions and achieved a key objective of exposing more inexperienced players to a Kiwi style of netball.
Ahead of the three matches, 10 of Thirlby's 16-player squad had 15 international caps or fewer, and the head coach awarded game-time to all but two of her players out in New Zealand.
"I think this is a great springboard. This almost marks just over a year for me being in this role and I've been able to expose a great level of players against Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Jamaica," Thirlby said.
"What a privileged position that is to be in as a head coach and I think that the depth of the squad is brilliant.
"As we head towards Birmingham and the Commonwealth Games, the opportunities to tinker with the team become fewer and we needed to do this piece first.
"I can't thank England Netball and Netball New Zealand enough for making this series possible."
The head coach's thanks were echoed by those on the ground in New Zealand, with co-captain Serena Guthrie using her post-series speech to share her gratitude and Ameliaranne Ekenasio crediting England's efforts too.
"We had a special opportunity this week to take part in what could be the only international netball in 2020 and we feel extremely privileged and honoured to have been a part of that," Guthrie said, whilst resting on her crutches.
"I'm extremely proud of our girls here, some have just a handful of caps, and I think we put our best foot forwards.
"I'm also proud of both groups [England and New Zealand] considering the circumstances we're all facing right now."
We're so grateful to you for coming over here. It shows so much committment to our sport to travel and quarantine. Thank you for coming to New Zealand
Ameliaranne Ekenasio's message to the Vitality Roses
For Thirlby, the three Test matches have provided exactly what she hoped they would have done. Her pre-tour objectives were both development and performance, and she feels the squad are in a strong position after their encounters with Dame Noeline Taurua's side.
"If I'm honest, I can't speak highly enough of my players and praise the team enough for what they've been able to produce out on court this week.
"Yes, it would have been great if we could have closed the gap to New Zealand even more [in the third Test]. I think that there was an expectation externally that we could just do that, but unfortunately things don't always move in that direction.
Could not be prouder of the Vitality Roses and off court leadership team. In such difficult & strange times you’ve shown complete commitment to the game & inspired a netball nation yet again.— Fran Connolly (@NetballFran) November 1, 2020
Fantastic performances throughout the court. The future is bright! 🌹 https://t.co/HlpnaKgS34
"It was really important to stay true to everything that we wanted to get out of the Test series," she said openly.
"The intent was to get even closer to the Kiwis [in the last Test]. I felt that there were some great patches, but we were probably less consistent [than on Friday] and had a few too many errors. I think that fatigue maybe played a part in that.
"Credit to New Zealand, it's taken them until this match to show us a bit more of their flow. I think that we should take huge credit ourselves for that, in terms of asking questions of them this week and making it difficult for them to win."
Thirlby, who took over from Tracey Neville after last year's Netball World Cup, has always been clear about what she needs to do at the start of her tenure and this international cycle.
With the Commonwealth Games arriving in 2022 and the next Netball World Cup in 2023, she approached this Test series knowing that it wasn't just about the here and now.
"I'm hugely proud and there's so much to take from this series in terms of learning. We got 14 players out on court and you cannot replace feeling it.
"I have a duty to get those players out there. There will be fewer options as we head closer to major championships to do that and I've got a lot of knowledge and insight now.
"As I say, there have been a lot of learnings and some upward pressure within the group," she added.
"You have to have competition in a programme and within a team and what I love about this team is they thrive off that. They don't fear it, they're united about it and know that it's what we need as a group."