Watch the third match between England’s Vitality Roses and the Vitality Netball Superleague All Stars, live on Sky Sports Arena from 6.15pm. It will also be streamed live on Sky Sports YouTube channel in the UK and Ireland.
By Emma Thurston
Jess Thirlby says England’s Vitality Roses are in a great place but the head coach is imploring her side to finish the job and gain a clean sweep of victories over the Vitality Netball Superleague All Stars.
After a 67-44 victory in the second match of the three-match series, the Roses secured the Jean Hornsby Cup on Friday evening and are now looking ahead to this evening’s final outing in Loughborough.
On Friday, Thirlby had implored her team to start stronger than they had done in the opener, particularly in attack, and it was clear that the Roses had listened to their head coach.
Natalie Haythornthwaite, who would be named player of the match after the full-time whistle, showed athleticism and drive at WA. While Laura Malcolm was handed the starting Centre bib, with Helen Housby and Eleanor Cardwell teaming up to start in the shooting circle.
“I’m generally really pleased,” Thirlby said post-match on Friday to Sky Sports.
“One of the key things that we wanted to fix from game one was out attacking play, it was actually brilliant that they started with the same line-up if I’m honest!
“We really wanted to address how we started today and I thought that we were much smarter with the ball today in attack.”
With a home Commonwealth Games taking place in just over a year’s time, Thirlby knows that every match is precious to the Roses’ development.
This Vitality Netball Legends Series was supposed to be played against Jamaica, however due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions that wasn’t possible.
Instead, the hard work and quick thinking of England Netball and the Vitality Netball Superleague clubs, meant that the Roses have enjoyed excellent competition anyway.
As a result, the head coach has been able to continue building her squad’s depth at this critical time in their international cycle.
“The line-ups and combinations that we were able to test [on Wednesday] were really pleasing, and some of which haven’t been seen before,” Thirlby noted.
“I think that Helen [Housby] and Sophie [Drakeford-Lewis] did pretty well and that’s an unusual shooting circle, it was nice to get that one out there.”
Since winning the Commonwealth Games in Australia back in 2018, the Vitality Roses have made no secret about their ambition to stay at the very top of the sport.
In order to defend their title on home soil in Birmingham, England’s head coach understands that she is going to need a world-class match-day squad.
Thirlby still has more Australia-based Roses to return, but without their presence she has been able to develop the depth underneath them, which is vital for their chances of success in 2022 and beyond.
“I think that we’re getting closer [to a world-class 12], I’d like to throw that out to those who are watching… if they can guess our starting seven, I think they’re a bit closer than I am.
“The margins are close, and the gaps are narrow,” she added. “I think that has shown with the likes of Imogen Allison coming onto the court and Beth Cobden the other day, both making their marks.
“We’re not there yet, and we shouldn’t be there yet, but I think what we’re seeing is a group that you look on the bench and there’s players who can come on and definitely make an impact. It’s a great place to be in.”