For more than 50 minutes of this match England looked as if they were finally going to claim a Series win over Australia, but instead a do or die Diamond comeback at the O2 nailed the 3rd Test and decided the Co-operative International Series.
Australian head coach Norma Plumber made significant changes to her starting line-up while a familiar England starting seven came on court. First centre pass to the Green and Gold was duly landed with England netting in turn and with the Australians then pulled up for contact on the next centre the Red and Whites made the most of the chance and pullled ahead. Very much the right kind of start for the squad as they stretched the lead to five after five minutes, and kept control enough to finish the quarter 12-8 ahead.
Another change of strategy for the Diamonds as both shooters came off; Natalie Medhurst took the GA bib, Kate Beveridge the GS one. It was more productive for their side the pair getting more chances. Pamela Cookey laid her claim to vertical leap of the game with a second quarter take-off that saw her take a hard high pass from Jo Harten fully two feet off the ground. Mo’onia Gerrard was making things tough for Karen Atkinson but ball was still getting into the England circle. As Harten landed another shot, three Aussies glanced skywards to the overhanging scoreboard as it moved on to 19-13 now. Still not the margin the coach wanted but every ball was fought hard for. Sara Bayman the winner in a race for the ball that sent Aussie Skipper Natalie von Bertouch sprawling and when Mo’onia Gerrard was hauled up again for offside and Karen Atkinson advanced the England co-captain gestured over her shoulder for the WD to get back with a thumb over the shoulder. An injury time-out with four minutes of the half to play saw Rebecca Bulley go off, Gerrard move to GD and Renae Hallinan come on at WD. At half-time England led by six goals.
Sonia Mkoloma did not start the second half with Eboni Beckford-Chambers now GD and England continued playing well pulling 29-20 ahead. It was working well in both circles but ominously the Australians began to find their shooters and with a couple of England misses, the Diamond got back into the game trailing by two 30-28. The second test was littered with errors from Sue Hawkins side and the mistakes creeping in again but the margin remained six goals with 15 minutes to play.
So to the final quarter with England comfortably ahead, Jade Clarke moved to WD Sara Bayman to C while Australia play what their coach believed to be their trump card Laura Geitz came on at GK. It was heartbreaking to see England stall in front of a full-on assault by the Diamonds. Nerves appeared to be affecting the side as goals were missed and easy passes were intercepted. Eboni Beckford-Chambers picked up an ankle injury and Mkoloma comes back on, Bayman and Clarke swap their bibs again. At 39-38 Karen Atkinson was pulled for breaking on the centre pass and the turn over allowed Australia to level the match at 39-39.
With five minutes to play, the Australian fans in the crowd suddenly became apparent having been rather shy during the match and they roared on the side. Ten thousand voices were cheering on the teams and for the first time in the match the Diamonds went in front.
39-40, their converted centre pass made it two, 39-41. England were on the back foot and it is hard to catch Australian teams from there. When the whistle went the players flopped with dismay. They had come within five minutes of a series win but lost the match 43-45 and will have to come back and try again.
Sue Hawkins Head Coach of England felt it was a missed opportunity: “When we were nine goals up we should have built from that margin” she said. “We have to go back and look at what it was. Was it they stepped up? Or we allowed them to step up?. My feeling is we allowed them to step up”
“Our error count went up and especially when it got tight in that last five minutes. So when the pressure goes on we need to practice like that.”
Karen Atkinson, England co-captain was gutted. “Incredibly disappointing because I think this is the first time that the whole squad have really believed that we can take Australia.”
She explained how it felt to lose like that. “You feel quite numb, you know that it was down to you really. The errors that came into the game before the end they shouldn’t have made the difference we should have been further ahead.”
Australian head coach Norma Plumber was understandably delighted “You don’t win 9 out of 12 world series if you don’t know what it’s about”
“I thought we started to get the momentum in the second quarter and let it go again. But to come home like a train, I’m just absolutely rapt with the girls did there.”
Umpires: Annie Kloppers, Chris Campbell, and Bobbi Brown
ENGLAND: GS: Jo Harten GA: Pam Cookey WA: Karen Atkinson C: Jade Clarke WD Sara Bayman GD: Sonia Mkoloma c GK: Geva Mentor
AUSTRALIA: GS: Caitlin Bassett GA: Susan Pratley WA: Madison Browne C: Natalie Von Bertouch WD: Mo’onia Gerrard GD: Rebecca Bulley GK: Bianca Chatfield