Netball Expert & Columnist
Tamsin Greenway talks England Vitality Roses' key lessons from New Zealand series
The Vitality Roses have just returned from New Zealand having taken on the world champions in Hamilton; England lost the series 3-0 but exposed a number of less experienced players to the Kiwis' distinct style of netball
Last Updated: 05/11/20 2:57pm
Tamsin Greenway gives her perspective on what England's Vitality Roses will have taken away from their Tests in New Zealand and where their focus needs to turn to in future series.
First things first, I thought that it was a really positive series for England and it was so important that it went ahead.
I know that the players and team had to go through so much for it to take place. They all handled that side of it superbly and it was well worth it when we saw the performances they put on out there.
Without the eight players who play in Suncorp Super Netball, there was a feeling that the world champions were going to really take it to England and that it was going to be an extremely challenging tour performance-wise.
- 1st Test: New Zealand 58-45 England
- 2nd Test: New Zealand 54-47 England
- 3rd Test: New Zealand 62-47 England
As a result of that perception, I think that many people were quite shocked by the step up from the English players who took to court. It was such a statement from them to go out there with no fear and to use those thoughts as motivation to show everyone what they're made of.
That fearless attitude came across in all three matches. England's young inexperienced players showed that they can step up to the next level, and the southern hemisphere audience are definitely going to be remembering some of the English names now.
Thankful for the opportunity provided by @englandnetball and @silverferns to play and represent netball right now. Not the result we wanted but lots learnt with an exciting team🌹The support has been incredible and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did😆 pic.twitter.com/UKGdqInqOE— Francesca Williams (@fwills11) November 2, 2020
England's confidence was boosted by their shooters and their high percentages of goals across the Tests, but it was led by the incredible defensive work all over the court. The Roses' defence rattled the Silver Ferns and that meant they weren't able to play with the freedom and creativity they normally do.
I know that before the tour, England's head coach Jess Thirlby talked about it being both a performance and a development tour. These are two objectives which I always think are quite difficult to achieve at the same time because you're trying to win games but also trying to get people on court.
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Personally, I think England almost got the balance right between going for the win and giving exposure to players, there were just a couple of key changes which perhaps could have been done differently.
I'm thinking about the second Test when the momentum was clearly with England. I would have liked to have seen how long the players on court could have continued and what they maybe could have achieved as a result of that.
However, if exposure was key, then I'm hoping the England management team have got the answers that they wanted. If they have, it means that they can move forwards and start to clearly build the squad, instead of casting the net too wide and not investing fully in key positions and players.
Of course, you want to have a big pool of talent and make sure that you've got players coming through, but you can't take six players who all play C/WD to a World Cup. At some point, you've got to decide who your two or three focus players are, and you've got to give them opportunities out there to learn, perform and build connections, because every match between now and the Commonwealth Games is crucial.
I think that England have found their answer to the next GA in Sophie Drakeford-Lewis. What's exciting is she has got so much more to learn but she was still brilliant in New Zealand and made a real impact. Sophie made a name for herself and I think that she'll only keep improving.
With so much potential, and adding her to a long list of England's other key GAs - Helen Housby, Jo Harten, Eleanor Cardwell and Nat Haythornthwaite - do England really need to keep on trying out more combinations here? Or can they focus on her and start to look at the next crop underneath to support, the likes of Kira Rothwell for example.
It's the same with some of the other positions - take the midcourt battle of Amy Carter and Gabby Marshall.
I understand the need to bring players through, but if you've already got Serena Guthrie, Jade Clarke in the squad... then Beth Cobden coming back and Laura Malcolm who can play WD/C, as well Jodie Gibson, Layla Guscoth and Vicki Oyesola who all cover, tough decisions need to be made about who you want to build your next squad around.
If Australia can leave Kate Eddy and Amy Parmenter out, and New Zealand can leave Peta Toeava out, then I think England need to be ruthless at some point too, otherwise no-one gets the amount of time and input they need.
Moving to other key finds for England, Razia Quashie looked totally at home on the international stage, and she did so against extremely tough opponents.
Geva Mentor has been the world leader for so long in the GK position and the reality is that (sadly) she's not going to play forever. That means that England need to start working out who their next GK is and what I loved about Raz in New Zealand was that she got better and better with every Test.
By game three, she was leading for interceptions and she kept England in that game for long periods of time. Raz really started to work out what the unit in front of her were doing and what ball she could come on and win. She was a real standout from the tour and that's something England should be very happy about.
As for the Silver Ferns, it was a really interesting series for them. I think it's fair to say that everyone expected them to be better, or at least more consistent than they were, and yet they've still come away with a clean sweep.
They also managed to get all of their players out on court and improve from the first to the last game. You could see them trying things throughout, it was by no means perfect, but they were brave enough to change starting line-ups and tactical play, which is all down to Dame Noeline Taurua and her brilliance.
I think it's important that we all still remember that New Zealand have lost many key players, in key positions too. With new faces in those positions, it's going to take time for them to reach the levels and the tactical play they had at the World Cup.
New Zealand aren't any different to other teams in the world - they're still bringing players through and having those players learn on the job. They won all three Tests, but they definitely weren't happy with how they played. This group will only get better.
So, what now for England moving forward? I think that they had a great opportunity out in New Zealand, and now is the time to start to gel and cement some of the successful combinations.
The coaches should hopefully have seen enough from the Vitality Nations Cup in January, from their own camps and from this series to start to break down and focus on particular players who are going to step up, compete and mix with those who will come back into the squad.
I'd hope that the next time the Vitality Roses have an international Test series, there's a bit more consistency on court in terms of combinations. I also hope that the focus shifts from performance and development, purely to performance, because this next group coming through are exciting and have shown us all just how much potential they really have.