Jamaica block series clean sweep but England still 'on track' for Birmingham Games

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  • Jess Thirlby
    English netball player and from 2019 head coach of the England national netball team
Jamaica block series clean sweep but England still 'on track' for Birmingham Games - GETTY IMAGES
Jamaica block series clean sweep but England still 'on track' for Birmingham Games - GETTY IMAGES

England 53 Jamaica 63

Perhaps England’s only regret of this victorious series is that they could not deliver on Project Clean Sweep. They were second best to an unflappable, revved-up Jamaican side in the third and final instalment of this competition, which served as a reminder that there are still a few work-ons for Jess Thirlby’s side as they head into a big Commonwealth year.

Having wrapped up the series with a game to spare after a 19-point victory on Saturday night, the pressure was off England. Thirlby had challenged her side to see out their first series win over Jamaica since 2013 with a bang, but it was the Sunshine Girls who set off the fireworks.

Against the same physical starting seven who had pushed them all the way in the first Test, England went down 14-11 in the opening quarter and never regained a foothold in the game.

Despite not sealing the whitewash, Thirlby admitted her side were “absolutely on track” for next year’s home Games in Birmingham, suggesting that the real litmus test will be in January’s Quad Series, when big hitters Australia, New Zealand and South Africa come to town.

England have won just two of their opening quarters in their last 12 matches - a stat that a rotated squad was powerless to change. Laura Malcolm was the most notable change in personnel at centre, with captain Serena Guthrie dropping to wing-defence, but they struggled to penetrate the final third with the same intensity they had showcased the night before.

“In netball you win, lose and draw some. Some matches are ugly, some are pretty. We need the whole range to take on a Commonwealth Games,” insisted Guthrie, who assumed her central position after the break. “What’s really positive is that we’re starting to win at the right time, and win when we know to start building performances.”

Jamaica have so often been rattled in this series, but in the pressure moments they stood up. Even when their own centre, Thomas Adean, was forced off the court in a wheelchair after falling awkwardly on her ankle during the first quarter, it was England who looked the more vulnerable, unable to deal with Beckford Shanice and Williams Khadijah’s attacking partnership.

Thirlby, however, was satisfied with the bigger picture. “There were a few things we were able to explore in this series,” she said. “I’ve ticked everything off my to-do list. They’re pretty restless in the pursuit of being successful. Winning after winning is something we’ll keep trying to do.”

Emphatic England seal first Test series win over Jamaica in eight years

England 66 Jamaica 47

By Fiona Tomas

What a difference a week makes. Over the course of an hour, England delivered an emphatic performance to seal their first Test series win over Jamaica in eight years with a game to spare.

The reigning Commonwealth champions were forced to problem solve their way to victory against a stubborn Sunshine Girls’ outfit last weekend in London, but there was no repeat of that frustrating storyline in Nottingham.

Guided by the burgeoning shooting partnership of Ellie Cardwell and Jo Harten, the hosts never looked out of control after mounting a healthy nine-point lead in a blistering first quarter which they continued to stretch all game.

It was a sizzling start to a display which bore all the hallmarks of a team whose preparations for next year’s home Commonwealth Games are progressing rather well. Backing up their victorious series win in New Zealand three months ago with their first over world No.4 side Jamaica since 2013, a double achievement which head coach Jess Thirlby said she would be celebrating “quietly''.

“I’m not affording myself to get too carried away but at the same time, I do think it’s important to celebrate these moments and what the team is putting out on court,” she said. "It’s been a long time since we’ve won a series against Jamaica, so it’s great to see this group get their heads down and keep chipping away. We’ve been wanting a start like that for a while now and I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team came out in that opening quarter.”

After flipping the game in England’s favour last weekend, Cardwell once again was integral to her side’s dominant display. Despite carrying strapping on her right leg, her positioning around the final third of the court was sublime, while her link-up play with Harten was almost telepathic. Executing 91 per cent of their shots, their success was a marker of England’s confident and clinical play.

Jamaica, for all the stubbornness they showed last week, were simply powerless to stop England’s relentless waves of attack. Their error-strewn afternoon was best summed up when their captain, Jhaniele Fowler, was denied an impressive goal from deep when the whistle blew as the ball left her palms at the end of the first quarter.

Pulling the strings in midfield was none other than Serena Guthrie, their stalwart captain, whose three turnovers and endless flurry of feeds and drives in the goal third helped England to flourish.

England face Jamaica in the third and final installment of the series on Sunday, and Thirlby challenged her side to finish on a high: “We don’t just rest on our laurels, but what a privileged position to be in having taken the series today.”

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