June 23, 2021

Thirlby: England have so much to gain in NZ

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Watch England’s three-Test series against the Silver Ferns, live on Sky Sports on October 28 and 30 and November 1

By Emma Thurston

Last Updated: 16/10/20 12:23pm

Serena Guthrie will lead England alongside fellow co-captain Laura Malcolm Serena Guthrie will lead England alongside fellow co-captain Laura Malcolm

Serena Guthrie will lead England alongside fellow co-captain Laura Malcolm

With the Vitality Roses’ first Test against the world champions edging closer, head coach Jess Thirlby looks at the challenge facing her team out in New Zealand.

Thirlby, who has had to stay in England due to a positive test for coronavirus, has been in constant contact with her players and the coaching team on the ground.

Kat Ratnapala and Colette Thomson are in New Zealand with the squad and Thirlby has selected Serena Guthrie and Laura Malcolm as her co-captains for this tour.

The Roses and the Silver Ferns are approaching this series from very different paths. England’s players are having to come off the back of the longest period without competitive netball in their careers, while Dame Noeline Taurua’s players have played a full ANZ Premiership campaign.

As a head coach Thirlby is matter of fact and is never shy about addressing the true context of a match or series, as her perspective on this one shows.

“We’re fronting up against the world champions,” Thirlby told Sky Sports News’ Gail Davis.

“They’ve got match play under their belts and are almost still in that honeymoon period of winning the World Cup, with all of the positives that come with that.

“Noeline’s a very well-respected coach so we were always going into this, most probably, as the underdogs. You layer that with the challenges Covid-19 has brought and I just think it’s a great opportunity to go out against them because what really have we got to lose?

“We’ve got so much to gain. My job is to not just think about what’s right in front of us, it’s to think beyond that as well.”

England’s Vitality Roses live on Sky Sports

First Test October 28 Live from 6am on Sky Sports Mix
Second Test October 30 Live from 6am on Sky Sports Mix
Third Test November 1 Live from 6am on Sky Sports Mix

The two teams last faced each other at the Vitality Nations Cup in January. The result was a 64-48 loss for England, however the Roses only trailed 28-25 at the half-time pause.

“For big periods in that game, we demonstrated some great understanding as to how to counteract what is a very unique and effective style of play [New Zealand’s zone].

“That was done with a less experienced group, so I feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to take 16 players out again and to be able to expose another group to that style of play.

“Week-on-week I see the advantages and how we’re accelerating the development of their understanding of international netball.

“Aside from the outcome [a potential loss], I can’t see any negatives from having an opportunity like this, where most international sides can’t see when their next fixture is coming. We’re very fortunate.”

Thirlby’s 16-strong group in New Zealand includes the returning Guthrie, who led the Vitality Roses as captain at last year’s Netball World Cup.

The mid-court player made her England debut in 2008 and 12 years on, she is poised to earn her 100th cap during this series. Guthrie’s head coach is thrilled she is back in the group and shared that her co-captain is continuing to drive the standards on.

“Serena is definitely as hungry as ever. I’ve felt that as soon as she walked back into the Roses camp,” Thirlby said.

“She obviously took time away and we kept in touch once I came into the post. It’s been a great journey for her and she’s been really honest for me around her reflections [from her break].

“It’s a big deal coming back into a programme after a World Cup.

“She’s absolutely buzzing and is really enjoying being around the group. I think she thrives off having different characters and some of the younger and less experienced players in there. Serena cares passionately about the team and really represents their needs well.

“She’s certainly not lacking any motivation. Serena is really committed. Yes, she’s achieved a lot but there’s still a few things which are outstanding on that list.

“She’s pretty keen on going into a Commonwealth Games and defending that gold medal which is so precious and means so much to all of us. Beyond that, who knows, hopefully a World Cup and breaking into a final for a first time.

“That’s what drives all of us, England broke the glass ceiling [in 2018] but it should just be the start and not the finish. We’ve got some things that we want to tick off over the next few years.”

Live netball returns to Sky Sports with the Vitality Roses taking on the Silver Ferns in a three-Test series at the end of October. Join us for the first Test on October 28.