Comment & Analysis
New Zealand vs England 2021: Jess Thirlby hails her squad's sensational second-half display
The three-match series will come to a close on Friday - with the Taini Jamison Trophy on the line; Game Three is available on the Sky Sports YouTube channel, with coverage also available on Sky Sports Arena & Mix from 8am
Last Updated: 22/09/21 6:39pm
Jess Thirlby hailed her England squad after they produced a sensational second-half display to defeat world champions New Zealand 55-45 to level up the three-game Cadbury Series and set up a thrilling finale in Christchurch on Friday.
The Roses slipped to a narrow 48-42 defeat in Monday's opening Test, but they produced an inspired comeback to overturn a three-goal half-time deficit to register their first victory over the Silver Ferns since September 2018.
England's defence - marshalled by a bloodied Geva Mentor and the irrepressible Layla Guscoth - nullified New Zealand's threat for large periods, although the visitors were unable to capitalise on a series of turnovers in a nervy opening quarter.
The spoils were shared in the second as the Silver Ferns boasted a slender 24-21 cushion at the interval, before the Roses changed the complexion of the contest with a stunning display (16-10) in the championship quarter.
Dame Noeline Taurua rang the changes in the latter stages but New Zealand were unable to respond and the Roses ran riot in the final 15 minutes - outscoring the hosts by a further seven goals to prevail in emphatic fashion.
"So much learning has been taken on board in such a short space of time, from players that were maybe just slightly off their best on Monday," Thirlby told Sky Sports.
"I think the areas we've worked on really came through this evening, so I'm really pleased.
"I still felt like we had a shaky first quarter, but our centre-pass attack through to goal was 76 per cent, which is brilliant for us. We have hit so many targets.
"We got more turnover than them, we scored off more turnover, finally! I think winning ball is one of our trademarks, but we have just been a bit wasteful previously.
"To do that and see that get better quarter on quarter, despite the number of changes that the Ferns threw at us is really pleasing. All 12 went out this evening, so we have got depth on our bench too."
Following their first Test defeat, Thirlby stressed the importance of her side being more composed and clinical in possession, but that did not materialise in a tentative opening quarter.
The Roses trailed 10-7 following a sloppy opening 15 minutes from both attack ends, and Thirlby's strong team talk appeared to pay dividends.
"It is not something I pull out very often. Maybe it was the mother in me," Thirlby laughed.
"I just felt like I didn't want the game to run away from them, because I knew they had that second-half performance in them, and you saw that the shackles came off.
"I felt like the attack just opened up. They were having so much fun in that second half, which is so rewarding to see because I see that in training.
"We still need to fix our starts, but we are certainly getting better at coming off the half-time and making a difference in that third quarter."
Taurua conceded England were deserving winners, and she reserved special praise for George Fisher, who produced a player-of-the-match display at GS.
Fisher was handed a start following her impressive cameo during the first Test, and she converted 45 of her 47 attempts under the post, while combining superbly with Sophie Drakeford-Lewis in the second half.
"I thought George Fisher had a brilliant game at goal-shoot, definitely opened the space and split us apart in our defence end," Taurua admitted.
"They were very physical in the inside circle. That is something we have got to really look at. Like normal English fashion, they took the ball through really well. They played really well."
The 2019 world champions appeared poised to secure the Taini Jamison Trophy following a hard-fought opening half, but Taurua gave an honest assessment of their error-strewn conclusion to the contest.
"It's a pity it blew out to 10 [goals] if I'm going to be honest. I thought up to half-time we were in control and on the up, and the wheels fell off a bit going into that second half.
"In our centre-pass attack, we didn't quite have that attacking prowess and we got caught on the back a wee bit, and got disconnected to our circle, so that was glaringly obvious."
While both coaches made changes to their starting seven, Taurua opted to shuffle her pack throughout Wednesday's encounter, handing a debut to highly-rated shooter Grace Nweke.
Tiana Metuarau starred once again after enjoying a dream debut on Monday, and with the Commonwealth Games on the horizon, Taurua believes this experience will prove invaluable for her new-look Silver Ferns side.
"I think it is a good start for us. It is always what you do next and obviously I know people won't feel happy with what they put out there, but that is the name of the game," Taurua said.
"That is what international netball is about. You can do a lot in ANZ and it's always that big step up and unless you're out there, you never know. It is a starting point for people and for us as a team, and we've got to lick our wounds and get on with the job."
Watch live coverage on Sky Sports Arena, Mix and YouTube channel of England's series in New Zealand as Jess Thirlby's squad continue preparations for the defence of their Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham in 2022