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By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
Ama Agbeze believes Team England have experience and preparation on their side ahead of the renewal of their rivalry with serial winners Australia.
Agbeze captained England at Gold Coast 2018 when a last-gasp Helen Housby score earnt the Roses their first Commonwealth gold at the expense of Australia, the Games’ most successful side.
The Diamonds topped the rostrum four years earlier in Glasgow, but Agbeze is confident that England can avoid a repeat of that disappointment and are better placed to make use of home advantage this time round.
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“I think the England team have a really good chance,” said Agbeze, who joined Jonnie Peacock in Birmingham this morning to celebrate the start of the Commonwealth Games.
Agbeze and Peacock attended a National Lottery-funded community project called Community Actions for Local Opportunities (CAFLO) at a sports and community centre based in Bromford, in Birmingham.
Bromford is an area in the top one percent of deprivation in Birmingham and thanks to support from National Lottery – they were handed a grant of £161,000 – they can provide sport and recreational activities for those who live nearby.
“I know they prepared really well during Covid, they travelled internationally each year whereas Australia, who are potentially our main rivals, didn’t even get to train because of their States base and they had a new coach, new players and it’s been interesting.
“I think also, the England team have 1000 caps between them whereas the next best [team] do not. I think the advantage of home territory is hopefully going to be something for the girls, I fancy their chances of defending the title.”
And Agbeze believes that the ever-growing rivalry with Australia is a testament to England’s improvement year-on-year, having never previously contested the gold medal match at the Commonwealth Games prior to 2018.
She explained: “Until the last games I think Jamaica were our biggest foe because we used to tussle between third and fourth with them but there’s been an ongoing rivalry with Australia and New Zealand and New Zealand didn’t perform so well at that Games, and so then it was Australia.
“They earmarked netball as a key medal that they could win and then we upset the apple cart on their home turf. That will be ammunition for them at these Games, but I hope we can defend the title.”
England will be hoping to utilise familiar surroundings better than they managed to in 2014, where they were pipped to bronze by Jamaica.
Of that squad, five remain, including Housby and according to Agbeze, that understanding of how to manage the pressure that comes with a major tournament on home soil will be vital to the team’s success.
Asked whether lessons have been learnt from the 2014 Games, Agbeze said: “Yeah, they definitely have though I don’t think it was a case of home advantage not being useful.
“I think at that time we were just on the rise. We’d beaten a couple of the top seeds but only occasionally. That was a massive learning curve and if it wasn’t for that I don’t think we would have won on the Gold Coast.
“The mentality of the team is so much different. The team are in a much better place, and I think being at home will increase and support that.”
Though there is a familiar feel to the England squad, a new name will be leading the side out, with Natalie Metcalf taking on the baton from Agbeze.
The 39-year-old lavished praise on her successor, having earmarked her as a potential captain some time ago.
“I think she’ll be brilliant,” Agbeze beamed. “When I was captain, she stood out as someone with leadership qualities. I remember a conversation I had with the strength and conditioning coach saying, ‘she’s going to be the England captain one day.’
“So for that to happen is absolutely incredible, she’s a great leader and a great motivator and she performs on court, so it’s a great choice. The team are in great hands.”
While also hoping it’s another golden summer for Team England on the court, Agbeze is eager to see a rise in participation in netball on the back of the Games.
She was speaking at the Sports Key, Doug Ellis Centre in Birmingham, a The National Lottery funded community project which is helping to get young people from disadvantaged areas into sport. Sports Key received £214k of TNLCF funding in 2021 and Agbeze could speak highly enough of the impact of that support.
"We’re here celebrating the National Lottery and all it does not just for elite sport but for community sport too and ensuring that young people and elderly people and everyone in between have the opportunity to enjoy sport in their local areas," she said.
Though Glasgow 2014 and the World Cup in Liverpool three years ago helped to attract new audiences to the sport, Agbeze believes a home Games could not have come at a better time following the detrimental impact of the pandemic on grassroots sport.
“I think when we won on the Gold Coast participation increased immensely, so I think if we can have that same effect, being on home soil, I think it will be far greater,” said Agbeze.
“Even if The Roses don’t win, I think we need a resurgence of netball and female sport because Covid definitely had a negative impact.
“I hope it’s a legacy of people seeing netball and then going out competing, playing or participating in the sport once the Games are done.”
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.