Having spent eight years getting up around 5am to drive to work in Newcastle, I was pretty confident I could manage a one-off early start to watch one of the opening pool games in the Netball World Cup: England versus Scotland.
I set the alarm for 5:30am, but despite the ongoing soporific effects of the bottle of wine I’d consumed (purely for medicinal purposes) the previous evening, I woke in good time and was ready (eggs on toast on my lap… strictly speaking they were on the plate that was on my lap) to turn on the computer and hear a particularly tuneful rendition of “Flower of Scotland”.
At this point, I need to explain my slightly split loyalties. I am English by birth – actually I’m Yorkshire by birth - but had I been any good at sport I could have qualified for Scotland through my maternal grandmother, who was born just outside Edinburgh. In addition, three of the Scottish Thistles squad: captain Hayley Mulheron, and shooters Gemma Sole and Jo Pettitt had represented Grangetown Netball Club during the 2014/15 National Premier League 2 season (with Hayley having also been a member of the Team Northumbria Super League side)….
Today’s result was always likely to go England’s way; they are one of the best sides in the world and have a genuine chance of going a very long way in the competition. For Scotland though, the game represented a great opportunity for the girls to showcase their talents against higher-ranked opponents on the sport’s biggest stage, and highlight to a global audience the progress that has been made under the guidance of Kiwi coach Gail Parata.
Just over an hour later, eggs successfully devoured with no spillages, the final score looked like this:
The bare scoreline clearly looks very one-sided, but the Thistles actually competed really well during the first three quarters of the game, and it was only during the final fifteen minutes when the difference in ranking was particularly evident.
Even though I’ve watched quite a lot of netball, I’d be the first to admit my knowledge of the intricacies of the game are limited; but what stood out for me was the speed of an England defence that was led by the outstanding Geva Mentor. The movement to deny time and space to the Scottish attackers was superb, and the pressure forced a number of rushed passes and consequent interceptions, many of which resulted (very quickly) in goals at the opposite end of the court.
To the Thistles credit, they stuck to their task well, and produced some excellent passages of play of their own. Despite being so closely marked by Mentor in the opening two periods, Gemma Sole’s performance will have earned many a cheer north of the border and also on Teesside: 13 goals from 17 attempts is impressive in any circumstances, but against one of the pre-tournament favourites, it is a fantastic effort.
Jo Pettitt entered the fray in the third quarter, and for fifteen minutes, two Grangetown players were leading the Scottish attack – it was great to see. The pair combined well and six goals came during that period (Jo’s final figures being 3 from 6).
At the other end of the court, Hayley Mulheron and her fellow defenders had the difficult task of containing a powerful England attack, whose four shooters each reached double figures. The Thistles gave everything, but tired in the closing minutes, and it was Rachel Dunn who took the shooting honours; a last minute miss spoiling her previously perfect record of 22 successful attempts.
England now face a crucial clash with Jamaica’s “Sunshine Girls” tomorrow morning (our time), whereas Scotland take on Samoa, a game that offers the Thistles their best chance of securing a victory in the group stages. I’m not sure how much more live action I’ll be able to see because we haven’t got Sky television, but I will be watching England’s game against Jamaica at the Cleveland Inn; where I understand that my eggy breakfast will be replaced by something altogether more Caribbean! I can't wait!
Postscript: Since completing this blog, I have learned of the death of Neville Neville, father of the England coach Tracey, who passed away in Australia today. My thoughts are with Tracey and all the Neville family at such a sad time.