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Roses not quite in full bloom

FLYING THE FLAG: England and Australia during the formalities before their match

IT WAS a bittersweet weekend for netball’s England Vitality Roses at London’s Copper Box Arena. The home side ensured that they ended the tournament on a high note after their loss to South Africa on Saturday, by beating Australia's Samsung Diamonds for the first time in the competition the following day.

South Africa against New Zealand was just the aperitif to the main meal that was England - Australia as the Vitality Netball International Series came to a searing end on January 20.

The Copper Box Arena, deep in the heart of East London, was at its 7,500 capacity and brimming with energy as England, Commonwealth Games gold medallists, took on their old foe from Down Under.

The game has long been a staple of the sporting portfolio in Australia and New Zealand, England are now playing catch up but at some positive pace.

Netball is a sport clearly on the rise. The success of England’s Vitality Roses (sponsors can clearly see commercial opportunities within the game) has been a seminal moment for a sport played by 1.4 million women in the UK's number one female participation sport.

The Vitality Super League, shown on Sky Sports has aided and abetted the sport’s popularity.

When played at its very best true ball is moved around in a skilful blur. England are no longer dark horses, claiming gold last April at the Commonwealth Games saw to that. Currently England are a potent mix of experience and youth.

Geva Mentor, Serena Guthrie, Jo Harten and Helen Housby provide the know-how while
Razia Quashie and Eboni Usero-Brown bring the vibrancy of youth.

The first quarter against the Aussies saw the hosts get out of the traps quickly but they became sloppy and ended the opening 15 minutes 15-9 down.

The Aussies scored the opening goal of the second quarter and the writing appeared to be on the wall for an England outfit that looked vulnerable in defence. But they are not the queens of the Commonwealth for nothing.


ON TARGET: England just after a goal by Jo Harten

Goal-keeper Mentor proved that she is still capable of telling interceptions and she inspired her team in their comeback. There was clearly a collective light-bulb moment during second quarter which ended 27 - 24 with England now in control.

England were in charge of the third quarter but an unimpressive start to final 15 minutes saw them ripe for defeat, it was level at 44 each with ten minutes to go.

However, under the guidance of coach Tracey Neville England know how to roll their sleeves up. Despite giving a live interview from the sidelines while the game was in play, the coach was still able to cajole her troops.

Fittingly, goal-shooter Harten scored England’s penultimate goal that virtually sealed victory (51-49) with just moments to go. Goal-attack Housby added some gloss to the evening with the final score of the match.

Football could learn a lesson or two from netball; time-keeping was done by a time-keeper, there was no - or very little - dissent and certainly no theatrics requiring a physio.

But just like football there was vociferous booing when pumped up fans believed their heroines were unjustly denied by officials or the opposition.

If the International Series was anything to go by, this summer’s World Cup in Liverpool is an absolute must. You cannot underestimate what home support could do for the Roses...they might just bloom once more!

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