Well that was some weekend of netball … South Africa turning England over, before losing out (slightly controversially) to New Zealand; England then producing three great quarters to defeat Australia, but the world no.1 still doing enough to win the Quad Series.
As with all my netball reports and articles, I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert, I’m just venturing a thought or two on a sport I have watched for years; one in which the top sides contain some of the finest athletes on the planet, athletes who are capable of producing the most amazing skill and sporting drama…
With England due to host the netball World Cup in just a few months’ time, yesterday’s fixtures showcased everything that is great about a sport that whose popularity has already grown so much since England’s incredible last-gasp victory in the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal decider against the previously all-conquering Australians.
Given the quality of South Africa’s performances over the weekend, and the introduction of Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls, it is reasonable to suggest that there are now five squads with the ability to challenge for World Cup honours. The sides ranked nos.6 and 7, Malawi and Uganda, are more than capable of causing an upset along the way, and I’m really interested to see how Northern Ireland and Scotland fare against the world’s best.
Back to the Quad Series though, and I thought South Africa were superb against England. They seemed to draw the Roses into a really physical game and Roses weren’t able to solve the problems posed right through the court. It was absorbing to watch, and absolutely the right result. The South Africans probably should have won again yesterday, but a compelling clash with New Zealand went into extra time courtesy of a goal calmly-converted by Ameliaranne Ekenasio … several seconds (or so it seemed) after the final hooter should have sounded.
Maria Folau eventually netted the “sudden-death” winner for the Silver Ferns, but it takes two sides to serve up a classic; Karla Pretorius was just brilliant at goal defence for South Africa, and it was no surprise to see her named as the player of the tournament.
England and Australia produced another fantastic game. Australia looked on top after 15 minutes, but Tracey Neville made changes that arguably altered the course of the match. It was fascinating to see how much of an impact the coaching team could play in proceedings; and the contrast between how England struggled to adjust to South Africa’s style of play, yet overcame the challenge of the world no.1 side was fascinating.
Even to my untrained eye, Rachel Dunn’s shooting (and movement) was pretty much faultless; and she was an easy choice for player of the match. My England player of the tournament would have been Geva Mentor – not just one of the (if not the) best netballer in the world, but one of the finest athletes around in any sport.
Yesterday’s games will have boosted all four nations in their respective preparations for the World Cup, but haven’t helped this observer pick a likely winner. Australia weren’t at full strength and I would assume they will start the tournament as favourites; and of the other leading contenders, I think England have the greatest depth, variety, and therefore potential in their squad … but what do I know?
As well as the action on court, I have really enjoyed some of the summarisers, pundits, or whatever is the appropriate term. From the netball I’ve watched over the past few weeks, I want to mention four people … not just for their expertise and insight (which are taken as given), but for the way they are able to engage the audience. It cannot be easy to educate new viewers without talking down to them, whilst still giving the depth of analysis that those with more knowledge of the game will want to hear…
This is just a personal opinion, but Tamsin Greenway, Cat Tuivaiti and Dan Ryan are excellent both behind a microphone and in front of a camera. The fourth person is Ama Agbeze, but with all due respect to the England captain, I’m hoping to be watching her rather than listening to her when the World Cup gets underway.
Until then, it’s all about cheering on Grangetown in Prem 1 and London Pulse in Super League for me. It’s been an amazing twelve months for netball, locally, domestically and internationally … but I wouldn’t bet against it getting even better.