Commonwealth Games: England prepared for Australian backlash in semi-final
England take on Australia in the second semi-final on Saturday at the NEC Arena in Birmingham; the first centre pass is at 2.30pm; it's a rematch of the 2018 Commonwealth Games final; the other semi-final between New Zealand and Jamaica is at 9am
Last Updated: 05/08/22 4:29pm
England versus Australia is one of the most famous rivalries in netball after England's stunning Commonwealth Games final victory on the Gold Coast four years ago. On Saturday, the next chapter will be written and this time, in the semi-finals.
On April 15, 2018, England shook up the world order by beating their hosts Australia and Helen Housby's famous last-second goal secured the team their first gold medal at a major championships.
The netball competition at a Commonwealth Games stands up there alongside a Netball World Cup in terms of its competitiveness and importance. The sport is not yet part of the Olympics Games.
Following England's triumph in 2018, this year's home competition in Birmingham has been a focus. Tracey Neville led the team to the 2019 Netball World Cup before stepping aside and since, England's development has been the brainchild of another former England international, Jess Thirlby.
Thirlby has timed England's progression perfectly and built a squad that's stronger than ever. It blends experienced internationals like Geva Mentor and Jade Clarke - who hold over 340 caps between them - with those partaking in their first Commonwealth Games.
England's squad are pushing each other to perform and so far, they're fulfilling what their head coach had said they would do, which is to embrace and be energised by being both the defending champions and home team.
Team England - Commonwealth Games fixtures and results
|Friday||England 74-22 Trinidad & Tobago|
|Saturday||England 66-41 Malawi|
|Monday||England 71-27 Northern Ireland|
|Tuesday||England 56-35 Uganda|
|Thursday||England 54-44 New Zealand|
|Saturday at 2.30pm||Semi-final vs Australia|
|Sunday, August 7||Final / bronze match|
Pre-tournament it was anticipated that England wouldn't meet the Australian Diamonds until the gold medal match on Sunday, however Jamaica shook things up on Thursday morning.
The Sunshine Girls' comeback victory over the Diamonds relegated Australia into second place in Pool A, then England's stunning 10-goal win over New Zealand ensured they moved out of Pool B having topped it.
"We're arriving at the semi-final having taken the scalp of a team above us in the world rankings and that's got to be good for confidence. It's a better place to be than picking ourselves up from a loss," Thirlby said.
"We've got a big task against Australia, and they'll be wounded as well. It's excited the crowd and it's given us the test that we've needed, but it hasn't really changed anything. It's the winners of the next two games that really matters now."
England winning the final quarter against New Zealand 15-11, including Imogen Allison's late stunning tip and long-range feed into Eleanor Cardwell ensured that they will take enormous momentum into their semi-final.
Since day one of the competition, Thirlby has highlighted an incredible ability to deploy the right players at the right time, in order to inject something different into matches and raise levels.
England's defensive end of Mentor, Layla Guscoth and Stacey Francis-Bayman have been world-class and all three know so much about Australian netball, given their current and previous time playing in Suncorp Super Netball.
Commonwealth Games semi-finals - Saturday
|9am||Jamaica vs New Zealand|
|2.30pm||England vs Australia|
At the other end of the court, there's concern over Jo Harten's fitness as she looks to be managing a leg injury throughout this competition. But, Housby showed against New Zealand just what a big-game player she is and how she's peaking as this tournament reaches its climax. Fellow shooter, Eleanor Cardwell has stepped onto a Commonwealth Games stage for the first time and been mesmeric.
Cardwell's understanding with Housby continues to grow, while captain Nat Metcalf knows exactly what both shooters are doing and there's not been a wing defence that has been able to contain her yet. Clarke, at centre, is better than she's ever been at 38-years-old.
In January's Netball Quad Series, England and Australia played out a thrilling 48-48 draw and on that occasion the Roses clawed back a six-goal deficit going into the last quarter and a three-goal deficit with just three minutes left.
Yet again, it was Housby who secured a pivotal shot but the warning came when the teams met again a couple of days later. Australia do not like to be beaten twice and this team will not want to be the only Diamonds side not to make the Commonwealth Games gold medal match in their history.
"I know how hard Australia will review their game [against Jamaica]," Mentor said. "I expect them to be licking their wounds and focusing on how they can break us down.
"We were training while their game was going on and we didn't really mind who was going to come out on top.
"It's nice to know who your enemy is going to be, but I think we've set the tone and it has opened up the possibility of a different grand final on Sunday."
Mentor's work on Grace Nweke - alongside Guscoth, really set the tone for England against New Zealand and the pair will look to do the same against Steph Wood and Gretel Bueta on Saturday.
Courtney Bruce will aim to disrupt Cardwell, Housby or Harten. Then, in the middle of the court, there will be an intense battle of man-on netball. Fitness levels will be tested, and the tactical choices made by Thirlby, Stacey Marinkovich and their coaching teams could be key.
In order to defend a Commonwealth Games netball title, history shows that you have to beat Australia whether that's in a semi-final or a final.
As England's head coach Thirlby said, it's the winners of the next two games that really matter now. With a home crowd behind them, the experience and form they have within their squad, England are right where they need to be to show that lightning can strike twice.