Coach Jess Thirlby encourages England to forget 2018 and focus on Birmingham

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England coach Jess Thirlby has told her players to turn the page on 2018 and focus on making more netball history by successfully defending their Commonwealth Games title in Birmingham next month.

Thirlby has named a 12-strong squad for the tournament which includes seven players who were part of the dramatic gold-medal win over Australia on the Gold Coast.

Helen Housby, whose goal sealed the last-gasp success, is among those named while Jo Harten and England’s most-capped player Jade Clarke also make the cut.

2018 Commonwealth Games – Day Eleven
England claimed a stunning win over Australia on the Gold Coast (Martin Rickett/PA)

Thirlby, who succeeded Tracey Neville following England’s semi-final defeat at the World Cup in Liverpool in 2019, said: “For this group it’s important to go and make their own history.

“If we were just reliant on what happened in 2018 I think there could be a few cracks, because we don’t own that success – we celebrate it but it isn’t something that we tangibly feel.

“This is a group that believes it can beat anyone, we know we have no more right to gold than we did four years ago. It is very rare to win back-to-back medals in any sport and we are ready for the challenge.”

Thirlby played alongside Neville at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, an era in which England routinely came up short against the powerhouses of the Games from Down Under.

England Vitality Roses v Australian Diamonds – Vitality Netball International Series – Copper Box
Jo Harten is one of seven 2018 gold medallists named in the England netball squad (Nigel French/PA)

Australia and New Zealand had contested every Commonwealth Games final prior to 2018, and have also featured in all but one of the World Cup finals since 1991.

But Thirlby believes in-roads made by England since the 2018 breakthrough has instilled something of a fear factor in an opposition who used to be virtually guaranteed a clear route to the final.

“I think our opponents look at us differently now, and see us as a real threat,” added Thirlby.

“Back when I was playing, Australia and New Zealand knew they’d reach the final, and although we believed in ourselves we were a bit too dependent on stand-out individuals.

“For me that is no longer an excuse. The balance has hugely shifted and while it has taken us a while we have finally got to that place.”

England, who have been placed in Group B alongside New Zealand, begin the defence of their title on July 29 against Trinidad and Tobago.

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