Jamaica win final game of series as England’s Jess Thirlby looks to learn
The biting winter winds that whipped around Nottingham’s Motor Point Arena did little to dull the fire of Jamaica who, after two defeats, exacted the perfect revenge on England’s Roses, defeating the series winners 63-53 in the final game of the three Tests.
Learning losses, that’s what Jamaica’s head coach Connie Francis alluded the first two game outcomes had been for her side, so when the Sunshine Girls began with the same seven that led the first match for half the game the question was asked: had Jamaica learned? It may have taken Kadie Ann Dehaney two England wins, but the Jamaican keeper finally cracked England’s golden girl Eleanor Cardwell, and its consequences proved decisive.
Despite the Roses’ own defensive efforts, led by Layla Guscoth and England captain Serena Guthrie, Jhaniele Fowler was all too ready to reap the rewards conjured up by her teammates. Not even an ankle injury to her centre, Adean Thomas, could abate her side’s ever-building momentum and at the end of quarter one Jamaica were in front 14-11.
Tails up, they continued their onslaught in the second quarter. Searching for answers England head coach Jess Thirlby turned to her bench.
First, on for Jo Harten came Helen Housby whose introduction had some impact. Dehaney and Sterling however, familiar with the Rose who plays against them week-in and week-out in Australia’s Super Netball league, adjusted quickly and were soon back capitalising on England’s lack of penetration in attack. Then on came Stacey Francis. But with Fowler flexing her full might, putting on a performance worthy of the “world’s best” suffix that often follows mention of her name, little changed, and the Sunshine Girls stormed ahead.
Down by eight it was a new-look Roses that started the third quarter, featuring names yet to play in the series. Sensing the responsibility handed to them by Thirlby, the seven on court gritted their teeth and got down to the task. Benefiting from Jamaica’s defensive triumvirate catching the eye of the umpire, England clawed back some lost ground, leaving them a deficit of eight to undo heading into the final quarter.
In elite netball a deficit of seven goals, so it goes, is considered too much to recover. Four turnovers, plus four centres taken to goal are necessary to flip the script. For England, up against an on-song Jamaica with Fowler and Sterling firing, a comeback of such magnitude was always unlikely. The Sunshine Girls seemed only to thrive on the desperation of the hosts watching their clean-sweep slip from their grasp and on the hour Jamaican cheers drowned out the arena.
Though project whitewash was a target not achieved, the mood in the England camp was one of positivity: “As much as it’s nice to get three out of three we have to be respectful to our opposition,” Thirlby said. “We just have to hold true to the success of the series overall and there’s never any harm in a little bit of a learning in that final performance.”
Next up for the Roses will be January’s Quad Series featuring Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. As Birmingham 2022 beckons it will be a critical test for the defending champions, who will no doubt head in as favourites.