England’s netballers go into tonight’s Tri-Nations Series match against Australia knowing that they could re-write their sport’s world rankings if they can follow-up their stunning success earlier this week over world champions New Zealand.
The 50-45 win at Manchester’s MEN Arena was only the second time that England have beaten the dominant New Zealand – and the first time since 1975.
The Silver Ferns enjoy a status in world netball similar to their nation’s All Blacks hold in rugby union. But now England’s bid to change netball’s world order at the World Championships later this year may need to be taken seriously, especially if they manage to get the better of the No2-ranked side, Australia, in their fixture at London’s Earl’s Court tonight.
The repercussions of defeat have generated the sort of headlines in New Zealand – where the sport has semi-professional status – more usually associated with tabloid coverage of English football and cricket, with several commentators demanding the retirement of the South Africa-born goal-machine, Irene van Dyk.
Former Silver Ferns coach Yvonne Willering has even questioned the tactics of New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken.
Against Australia, England will need to repeat their performance against the Silver Ferns. There, from the first whistle, England’s game was fluid and accurate, with some lightning fast interplay and some tremendous defence from Geva Mentor and Sonia Mkoloma restricting van Dyk to just six shots in the first 15-minute quarter. At the other end, meanwhile, Louisa Brownfield hardly missed a chance, scoring 22 goals in the game, ably supported by Pamela Cookey.
But it was nerve-wracking stuff: from a 10-point lead after the first quarter, by the final quarter, England were just two points ahead, and now it was time for the packed Manchester crowd to play a role, generating some tremendous support for the home side. The team responded, as Cookey netted three key goals, and with Clarke taking two crucial interceptions, England kept their momentum.
New Zealand threatened once more, but England captain Amanda Newton took an interception on the Kiwi circle edge which kept the English team in the hunt. With the crowd sensing a shock, England raised their game once again, and with a minute remaining stepped up the pressure once again. Mkoloma blocked a Van Dyk shot under the post, and with the crowd on its feet, England secured the historic win.