'Aggressive' England force Diamonds rethink ahead of semifinals

Helen Housby of England and Ash Brazill of Australia Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Netball World Cup 2023 via Getty Images

England Roses have thrown down the gauntlet at the Netball World Cup after recording their first win over Australia at a World Cup and challenging the Diamonds physically, tactically and in crunch moments in their last match of the second round.

The Roses came back from eight goals behind in the third quarter to claim a last-minute win by one goal and made statements both on and off the court about their ambitions to break Antipodean dominance at this event.

"In the last quarter we wanted it more. We looked like the stronger side, we looked fitter and we wanted the ball in our hands," Helen Housby, England's goal-attack who is based at the NSW Swifts said. "I am really proud of the effort and I think we could have been even more clinical and we should have won the game by more than one."

Housby's bullishness came after her and goalshooter Eleanor Cardwell, who plays for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, netted 98.2% of their shots (56 out of 57) compared to Australia's 90.2% (55 out of 61) and showcased an attacking brand of netball that somewhat left the Diamonds' in the dust and disrupted their gameplan.

Coach Stacey Marinkovich acknowledged England's "really aggressive style that made us stop-start the way we wanted to play," and that Australia were not able to "break when we needed to."

Despite Australia having slightly more possession (52%) and conceding 25 fewer penalties than England, they made half the number of gains and could not capitalise on their second quarter advantage, which they won 19-11.

Marinkvich made only six changes in the first three quarters and did not use Sophie Garbin or Sunday Aryang at all in the match, while England made 22 changes in the same time and kept the Diamonds guessing.

Marinkovich said she would "go back and look at what we were doing," but did not think she missed a trick by leaving Garbin on the bench.

"Ultimately, they were doubling back on our shooters and our goal attacks were taking high volume. It didn't matter which goal attack we put out there, that's the way they were working it."

England identified their "greatest strength as our ability to defend as a whole," according to their coach Jess Thirlby, who also said it's what makes them different to Australia.

"Our strength is in the collective, and their strength lies with individuals," dshe said. Arguably, that was evident in the rotations, which allowed England to register their first win over Australia since they met in a Quad series in 2019 and for their attacking players to show off their primary skills.

Housby put some of her and Cardwell's impressive performances down to the familiarity they have with the Australian team from Super Netball, she also explained England's desire to take on tough moments as a big part of their success.

"Experience is invaluable and when you are presented with an opportunity, you either step into it or step away from it. The first step is getting the ball in your hands and wanting to shoot the goal. As soon as you do that, whether you score the goal or not, you have taken the pressure on," Housby said.

"From there, it's about nailing the technique and nailing the actual process in the moment. Your mindset has to switch from being scared to being excited and wanting that pressure and wanting that glory. Everybody wants to win, and you have to be the person that wants to win it for your team. We've got a team full of girls like that."

Diamond's captain Liz Watson would argue that she has the same qualities among her group who "do not want to lose even if people say there are good losses," but conceded the competition is getting tougher as the tournament enters the pointy end.

"It is getting really physical. That's what is happening now towards the back end of the tournament," she said. "We are prepared for it. The way we train against each other is on another level but it's probably just how we can still play our flow and our style when we are getting held back a bit."

Australia have Friday to figure that out before their semifinal, with their focus still trained on adding a 12th World Cup title to their names.

"Our vision is still there on where we want to go," Watson said, undistracted by the key contest going on between Jamaica and New Zealand, which would determine their final four opposition. While England's captain Liz Metcalf's eyes were glued to the game, because she "loves watching netball", Marinkovich would not be drawn into which of the two she would prefer to face in the final four.

"It's high performance sport, there's not a perfect game," she said. "To win a World Cup, you've got to be able to beat anyone, anywhere."