The Co-operative World Netball Series is the first time that Fast Net has been giving an outing, it is to netball what Twenty20 is to cricket, 7s to rugby and five-a-side to football, but it is much much quicker. In the tournament this weekend at the MEN Arena in Manchester England have faced a rollercoaster introduction to the new game.
The weekend started well for England with victory over Samoa where Rachel Dunn landed the first prized four-point goal from successfully shooting from outside the usual shooting zone part of an impressive performance by the home side that led them to a 36-16 victory. Next up was New Zealand and again England was on wining form for this clash of the titans fixture. In a tight game England held their nerve and beat the Ferns 24-21 in a fast and physical game ending day one unbeaten.
Against Jamaica on day two England demonstrated the understood the value of the rolling substitutions and used them good effect. In the first quarter alone there were four changes including Karen Atkinson starting at centre being replaced by Jade Clarke before heading back out on court as WA in place of Tamsin Greenway. In a tightly contested game Jamaica were trailing by just 3 goals approaching the final whistle before England's Jo Harten found herself forced to the edge of the circle and shot a crucial goal. It was a tight push right to the end but the home side remained unbeaten and shared the lead at the top of the table with Australia.
In the afternoon’s matches England were again victorious with a 33-22 victory over Malawi, before taking on arch rivals Australia. Once again it was an impressive start by England who shut the Diamonds out of the game for nearly three minutes before they scored by which time the home side had netted three goals. Defensively the home side were strong with Mentor and Mkoloma outstanding around the court backed up with the rolling subs, denying the Diamonds quality possession and making them scrap for every bit of ball. Geva Mentor said it was a case of business as usual even if they were playing Australia. "It was really intense out there and it was really tough but we're just taking that attitude that whatever team we play against we just stick to our game." England beat Australia 25-19. It is the first time England has beaten their antipodean rivals since the early 1980s.
England needed to beat Jamaica on the final day to engineer another meeting in the grand final of the Co-operative World Netball Series but the Sunshine Girls had their plans for the afternoon. The damage was done in the second quarter where both teams opted for the power-play and Jamaica stormed into their unassailable lead. England was already trailing from the first six minute period where the players were bounced around the court in a bruising battle to the ball.
It was a 12 point lead by the end of the quarter, missed shots from England with coupled with a highly accurate Simon Forbes and Romelda Aiken partnership swung the momentum firmly in Jamaica's favour. The Sunshine Girls dominated physcially and muscled England off the court, literally at times taking the game, and the coveted place in the final with a 22-33 victory.
England versus Australia was supposed to the final but Jamaica and New Zealand booked their places in the showpiece of the Co-operative World Netball Series instead.
Stinging from defeat by the "auld enemy" in the day's first game, Australia, were raring to go in the play-off for third place and took a lead in the first quarter that they surrendered only once in the match. England looked a little tired finding it tough to match the mobility of the Diamonds.
Starting the second period five-three down meant it was an uphill struggle for the home side but a two-pointer from Pamela Cookey levelled the score at 6-6 and it was game on again. Both teams called their Power Plays in the third quarter and once again England were unable to close the gap on their rivals by exploiting this, although they did go ahead briefly after Sonia Mkoloma won a turn-over and Pamela Cookey landed the shot.
Despite stepping up the marking and keeping the ball out of as much danger as possible, England could not catch Australia even with some double-pointers from Jo Harten. They end this series with one win apiece and will resume on Tuesday in the Co-operative International Series in Bath.
The final was won by New Zealand, who despite finishing third in their pool led the final match from start to finish, beating the Jamaicans 32-27 to secure the championship title.