England down defending champions to reach first ever Netball World Cup final
England held their nerve to pull off a memorable 46-40 victory over defending champions New Zealand at the Netball World Cup 2023 in Cape Town on Saturday, so booking their place in the gold-medal match for the first time in the tournament’s 60-year history. In the other playoff match of the morning, Fiji defeated Trinidad and Tobago to secure 11th place.
ENGLAND 46 – 40 NEW ZEALAND
England and New Zealand met in a Netball World Cup semifinal for a fifth time in Cape Town on Saturday, having also met at the same stage of the competition at the last tournament in Liverpool four years ago.
History favoured the defending champions, with the Silver Ferns having claimed victory in all four of their previous final-four encounters dating back to 1991. But it was the Roses who defied the odds to claim a memorable victory after a fiercely contested encounter, winning 46-40 on a historic day for English netball.
It was a nervous start from both sides, with a few frantic exchanges seeing possession changing hands on several occasions. Plenty of defensive pressure from both sides led to a low-scoring opening period, the momentum swinging both ways before the two sides reached the first break level on 9-9. Things could have looked very different had England not struggled quite as much in the shooting circle, while New Zealand were shooting at 100 per cent at the other end.
England’s impressive defence forced several errors from the Silver Ferns leading to them losing some ground in the second quarter. The Roses edged three goals in front at one stage, but the New Zealanders wouldn’t let them get away, coming back in the final two and a half minutes of the period to deny the Roses while scoring three goals of their own to once again go into the break all square at 20-20. Again, the England shooting average was lower than they would have liked, standing at 73.3 per cent in the second quarter while New Zealand remained at 100 per cent.
The only change to the starting lineups came from England at the start of the third quarter with Jade Clarke, playing in her record-equalling sixth Netball World Cup, coming on at centre for Imogen Allison. Fran Williams came on around 10 minutes later at goal defence, replacing Layla Guscoth, who had done some excellent work in partnership with goalkeeper Geva Mentor in the defensive circle.
A great intercept from Kelly Jury in the circle with three minutes remaining saw New Zealand inching into the lead for the first time in the third quarter. But that lead didn’t last and there was once again nothing between the sides heading into the final break, all square on 32-32.
Whatever England coach Jess Thirlby said to her side ahead of the final period seemed to spark a fire in them as they came out with more confidence for the final 15 minutes. Allison returned to centre at the start of the period while New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua again stuck with her starting seven. With history beckoning, Williams pulled off a game-changing intercept to give England the edge with just over four minutes remaining and Allison delivered another to hand them all the momentum and surge even further in front. The Roses didn’t look back from there, scoring six goals on the trot at the end of the match to secure the 46-40 victory. With that, they become the first team other than New Zealand, Australia or South Africa to reach the gold-medal match in Netball World Cup history.
England coach Jess Thirlby was understandably thrilled with her team’s performance, saying: “I’m really typically very proud, like I’m a little bit overwhelmed with what the team have just been able to do.
“I think to win a game in that way is the most satisfying feeling… our capability on the court from a technical and tactical point of view, I’ve never questioned that or doubted it. I have 100 per cent belief in it. I think the journey we’ve been on is how to manage ourselves through momentum in games against the best teams playing at their best,” she added.
“What a fantastic showcase by both teams. I thought New Zealand were excellent. They did what we kind of expected and maybe we struggled at times to really overcome that but mentally we stayed with it, and I think to end a game of that nature with a run of six just goes to tell you that you just have to stay in the game and it opened up an attack. Defence got what they needed when we needed it most and that’s really satisfying.”
An emotional Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio said her side were devastated at not having the chance to defend their title.
“It’s really devastating for us. We’re feeling very heartbroken as well, especially knowing that we were in it for the three quarters and I think we really stood up,” she said. “It’s kind of been a bit of the story for us – that fourth quarter but I thought we had our chances as well in that. I guess it’s the way it goes but we have to get up again tomorrow [for the bronze medal match] and find a way. We’ve got a lot of heart left and we’re not done yet – we’ve got another game.”
Q2: 20-20 (11-11)
Q3: 32-32 (12-12)
Q4: 46-40 (14-8)
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Fran Williams (England)
FIJI 71 – 39 TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Fiji took on Trinidad and Tobago in the 11th place playoff at the Netball World Cup 2023 in Cape Town already assured of a better finish than their last World Cup appearance in Liverpool four years ago where they finished 14th. A spirited performance saw them claiming a convincing 71-39 win to climb two spots on their previous result.
The Fiji Pearls looked by far the hungrier of the teams as they took to the court, finding their rhythm early to pull away from the Calypso Girls, who seemed to be lacking energy. That saw them 5-1 up within the first five minutes of the match.
With their defenders applying plenty of pressure to turn the ball over, Fiji pounced on all their opportunities to extend that lead. Trinidad and Tobago coach Joel Young-Strong brought on captain Shaquanda Greene-Noel at goalkeeper 10 minutes into the first quarter to replace Daystar Swift, but Fiji continued to score at will, racing ahead to a 17-8 lead by the first break.
Unaisi Rauluni was particularly impressive in the Fiji circle, shooting at an average of 91 per cent in the first half as Fiji continued to rack up the goals in the second quarter to reach halftime 34-15 up.
Trinidad and Tobago came back a little stronger in the third quarter while a host of changes for Fiji meant they lost some of their rhythm. That saw the sides separated by just two goals in the quarter score (Fiji winning it 15-13) but the damage that the Pearls had done in the first half meant they took a 21-goal lead into the final period.
Fiji found more fluidity when Maliana Rusivakula rejoined Rauluni in the circle, the duo working well together to extend the Pearls’ lead even further. As she has done throughout the tournament, coach Unaisi Rokoura continued to ring in the changes in the final minutes of the match but her side kept up the pace, wrapping up a 71-37 win and with that, securing 11th place.
Speaking after the match, an elated Fiji captain, Maria Lutua-Rusivakula, said: “It’s absolutely good. To come out here with a young squad – our aim was to progress from where we left off at the last World Cup and I think everyone really stepped up and put in 100 per cent, so going home, we’re happy that we have progressed from the last time.
“We wanted to finish off on a high. We’ve worked hard and worked strong and wanted to go out with a win so we came out hungry and we said we’re not going to go home without a win, so I think the girls showed that on court today.”
Trinidad and Tobago coach Joel Young-Strong agreed that her players had lacked energy for their final match.
“They really are tired but they should have been doing better than this because we were trained a certain way that when this time at the end comes, we need to step it up. But I think they were also tired mentally,” she said.
“Fiji were hungry. My hats off to Fiji today. We played them in a warm-up and they looked really, really good so we anticipated some great pace, tactics and connections from them, but we failed. It’s alright, it’s all good. We’re going to build from here and come back next time stronger, better and fitter.”
Q2: 34-15 (17-7)
Q3: 49-28 (15-13)
Q4: 71-37 (22-9)
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Unaisi Rauluni (Fiji)