Jess Thirlby was pleased with how her Vitality Roses side made the world champions feel uncomfortable during their first Test in New Zealand.
The head coach, speaking from her home in England to Hannah Wilkes for Sky Sports News, was reflecting on the team’s first competitive Test match since January.
England’s Roses are having to navigate their way through this three-Test series against the Silver Ferns without Thirlby being there in person, due to her positive COVID-19 result prior to their departure.
Vitality Roses fall short against Silver Ferns
Vitality Roses Tests on Sky Sports YouTube channel
Ahead of the series starting, Thirlby made it clear that these contests are about performance and development for the Vitality Roses and the head coach was content with their first hit-out, despite it being a 58-45 loss.
“First and foremost, there’s just so much to be happy about and pleased with,” Thirlby said.
“To be able to get 11 out of 12 players on court and for most, if not all of those changes, to be adding value or being pretty seamless is a huge improvement for us because that’s not always been the case.
What an amazing experience! Extremely grateful for this opportunity, here’s to the next one👊🏽🌹 https://t.co/BDcnPI7YdO
“It was great to be able to get the likes of Imogen Allison out there… if she was told last year that in 12 months’ time she would be getting her first cap for England having not played for nine months, I think people would have said that you weren’t being serious!
“To hold New Zealand to relatively small quarter-score margins; we lost that opening quarter by five and thereafter it was only ever a difference of two or three, I think that’s really good for us.
New Zealand 58-45 England – Quarter scores
“I think we grew into the game which is really pleasing. We should take some credit for the fact that New Zealand weren’t comfortable throughout and I’d like to think that’s down to what we were doing.
“I was really pleased that one of our main objectives here is to expose a group of players to this style, so that we get a better understanding as to how to counter it. I felt that I saw that in longer patches during this first Test.”
After the Test match Dame Noeline Taurua, New Zealand’s World Cup-winning coach, was critical of her side’s performance and Thirlby is experienced enough to know what’s coming on Friday.
“We’re under no illusions [here], I expect New Zealand to go up a level in the second Test,” she said.
“Whilst I think we’ve got that one out of the way, it was always going to be a big step just being back on an international court, but we also don’t want to be content with mediocracy or with the areas where I think we can do better.
“There are things that I believe we can change [before Friday], even having such a tight turnaround. We’re certainly going to need to raise our game if we’re going to stay with them in the second Test.”
On the scoreboard, New Zealand’s early four-goal advantage set them on the right track and they never relinquished their lead, however the Roses’ defensive unit of Fran Williams and Razia Quashie really got to grips with their opponents.
“Fran and Razia have just come out against what’s probably the best shooting combination in the world right now, in terms of Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Maia Wilson,” Thirlby said.
Coming out with ball stealth like, confusing the space and her partnership with Quashie is really making things difficult. Looks like there is next to no space to go in that circle. Also has fed the attacking end and circle well! Love it @SkyNetball https://t.co/KCwQCJBs15
“That’s not an easy task to take on. In the third quarter, Fran came alive and got some really important turnovers off the work of those in front of her. Razia did a really good job early on too.
“We’ve done a lot of homework on Ekenasio and Wilson, and the reason Razia and Fran stayed out there [for the full match] was because I really felt that they’d earned the right to see it out.”
Shooters on point
When it came to personnel changes, Thirlby took the opportunity to give minutes to all four of her shooters.
Kadeen Corbin and Eleanor Cardwell started the game, before Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and George Fisher, who will play her netball on Kiwi soil in the ANZ Premiership next season, were introduced.
“With our shooting circle, they’re all very much on a par and that’s one of our greatest strengths at the moment,” the head coach said.
First Test – Shooting statistics
“The four shooters all present very different style options for us, which is really useful when you come up against a team like New Zealand. Whether or not we’ll settle on a pairing… I’d anticipate not because I think that they’ve earned the right to get out there in multiple combinations.
“For this tour, it’s how we cope and embed those changes and how quickly we can make them. There were good signs about us being able to do that too, El [Eleanor Cardwell] moved really seamlessly from GA to GS.
“I think people forgot how young and inexperienced Sophie Drakeford-Lewis is. I felt that she had a brilliant game, she was very consistent and really added some value when she entered the game.
“George has been performing brilliantly in training, in particular during these last few weeks out in New Zealand, and Kadeen is smart and brings a bit of flair.”
New Zealand vs England’s Vitality Roses – Live on Sky Sports
Remote working for Thirlby
As a result of her positive COVID-19 test and not being able to be on the ground with her team, Thirlby has taken working remotely to a new level.
Ahead of the first Test she hadn’t missed watching a training session live and had a direct communication link into Kat Ratnapala and Colette Thomson during Wednesday’s encounter.
📸: @JessThirlby's setup
The Vitality Roses Head Coach is in constant communication with the rest of the Performance team 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/ReV7MBoWKh
“First and foremost, I have complete respect and confidence in both Kat and Colette, we’re a coaching team ultimately and we’re working collaboratively together.
“They are able to get a feel for what’s happening on the ground because courtside is a very different place to be,” Thirlby said.
“I’ve turned it all on its head and have thought, what opportunity is there with me being at home? My environment is quiet, so I get a different view.
“I get the bird’s-eye view which coaches often long for and I think there’s value to be added.
“It is a two-way conversation and we are connected, but I don’t place that much self-importance on myself and thinking I need to be in the ear all of the time. Often, I’m just confirming something that we may have spoken about before or suggesting something. I’m keeping that really quite narrow, they don’t need a lot of volume from me.
“It’s important for them to be able to run something past me and for me to be able to say, yes let’s go for it. It probably looks like more than it is! I drop in for probably 30 seconds and then I leave them to it.”
Live netball continues on Sky Sports with the Vitality Roses taking on the Silver Ferns in the Second Test on Friday in Hamilton. Join us from 6am on Sky Sports Main Event and Mix.
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