England’s netballers step-up their preparations for the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games with a seven-game 14-day tour to Australia starting later this week.
A 16-strong England squad will take part in the tour, which will see them play some of the top teams in the world’s top netball club competition, the Trans-Tasman ANZ Championship.
England will play two friendlies against both the Sydney Swifts and the Adelaide Thunderbirds, who are currently first and second in the championship respectively.
“The idea was to try to reproduce the Commonwealth Games experience and to see how some of the players handle the pressure of touring,” said England head coach Sue Hawkins. “We’ve now had the draw for the Delhi Games and that will be a little bit lighter, so the tour should be more stressful for the players.
“If they can handle the tour they’ll be able to handle the Commonwealth Games scenario,” she said.
“We’ll also be doing all sorts of ‘what ifs’ all the way throughout the tour.”
Sixteen England players will take part in the tour. A final 12-strong England squad for Delhi will be announced in August.
The injury to defender Naida Hutchinson sees a call-up to the senior set-up for the first time for Lindsay Keable, a member of the TeamBath team that have just retained the national Superleague title.
She flies out from Heathrow with the squad on Friday 11 June - her 22nd birthday.  
Five of the players who will feature in the tour are already playing in the ANZ Championship, which is a professional league. They will be available for part of the tour.
Geva Mentor is currently with Adelaide Thunderbirds, Sonia Mkoloma is with NSW Swifts, Ama Agbeze plays for Central Pulse in New Zealand, while Jade Clarke has just joined Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic and Tamsin Greenway has joined Queensland Firebirds.
All of the seven friendly games will be played behind closed doors and will feature six quarters rather than the usual four.
England are drawn in pool B at the Commonwealth Games along with defending champions New Zealand and world number six side South Africa, along with the Cook Islands, Barbados and Papua New Guinea.
The top two teams from each pool go through to the semi-finals.
“I can’t wait for the Commonwealth Games,” said Hawkins. “I’m happy to be in the same group as New Zealand. It will be a tough one, but it should be good. We can’t afford to under-estimate anyone.”
Netball has featured at the last three Commonwealth Games and England have won two medals to date – a bronze at Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and another bronze in Melbourne four years ago. They were just pipped to bronze by Jamaica at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Australia and New Zealand are the only two teams to have won netball gold at the Commonwealth Games, with Australia winning in 1998 and 2002 and New Zealand triumphing in Melbourne four years ago.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games take place in Delhi, India, from 3 to 14 October 2010. They will feature 17 sports - archery, aquatics (swimming, synchronised swimming & diving), athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby 7s, shooting, squash, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. With the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Commonwealth Games England is entering a breath-taking four years of sport.

Commonwealth Games England (GCE) is the organisation responsible for selecting and organising England's team at the Commonwealth Games.   England finished second to Australia on the medal table at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games with 36 golds, 40 silvers and 34 bronzes.

Sport England is responsible for building the foundations of sporting success, by creating a world-leading community sport system of clubs, coaches, facilities and volunteers. Their focus is growing and sustaining the numbers of people taking part in sport and improving talent development to help more people excel.
For further information about netball in England please see the England Netball Association website at www.englandnetball.co.uk

For further information about Commonwealth Games England please contact the Commonwealth Games England press office at Matchtight Ltd on 07765 071683 or 07831 755351 or see the CGE’s website at www.weareengland.org <http://www.weareengland.org <http://www.weareengland.org> >