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England outshine SA for match one!

See what we did there! – An impressive test series got underway in Manchester beating South Africa 54-51.

Jess Thirlby gave home debuts to five new Vitality Roses as England marked their World Cup homecoming with a win in the first game of the Vitality Netball International Series against South Africa.

Fresh from the recent series with New Zealand, Halimat Adio, Sasha Glasgow, Berri Neil, Alicia Scholes and Jayda Pechova all featured as England got their final series of the year off to a winning start in front of 8,000 fans at the AO Arena in Manchester.

Netball World Cup silver medallist Eleanor Cardwell put up 34 goals whilst World Cup teammate Imogen Allison received Player of the Match after producing 24 feeds and 3 intercepts.

Quarter One
Local favourite Eleanor Cardwell got the Vitality Roses on the scoreboard with the opening goal of the game, linking up well with her new shooting partner, Sasha Glasgow. Within a few minutes, England looked to have seized an early turnover but the SPAR Proteas quickly regained possession as Phumza Maweni picked up a loose ball on the edge of the circle. England hit back as Cardwell stunned the AO Arena with a superb piece of skill on the goal line, taking a long feed off balance before putting up the goal on one foot. As the first quarter wore on, the Vitality Roses’ attacking end began to find some rhythm as Imogen Allison and Hannah Joseph combined well with Glasgow and Cardwell in the circle. Joseph, playing her fourth consecutive England match off the back of the New Zealand series in September helped to make a pickup before the visitors let go of a loose ball on the goal line, allowing England to stretch their lead to five with just under four minutes to go until the first break. Just before the buzzer, Glasgow picked up a rebound from a long shot from Cardwell to put the score up to 16-11.

Quarter Two
Both Head Coaches opted for changes in their attacking ends at the break as Kamogelo Maseko came on at goal attack for the SPAR Proteas whilst Berri Neil was introduced for her first home match in a Vitality Roses dress as she came on for Glasgow at goal attack. Imogen Allison, now part of Manchester Thunder for NSL 2024, got the local crowd on their feet with a superb intercept on the sideline, feeding the ball back to Halimat Adio at the back of the court. A few moments later, captain for the series Fran Williams was quick to react under the post as she collected a tenacious rebound from the snatches of Ine-Mari Venter and Maseko. Ellie Rattu was brought at wing defence for Funmi Fadoju and was immediately involved, putting pressure on the SPAR Proteas midcourt to force a turnover. By the end of the first half, the Vitality Roses had furthered their lead to eight, taking the quarter 14-10.

Quarter Three
Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby made her third change of the match during the interval bringing on local favourite Alicia Scholes for her home debut in place of Hannah Joseph. She was immediately involved in the action as she fed Cardwell under the post. Picking up from where she left off in the World Cup, Allison was a central figure in the midcourt, helping to control the tempo for the Vitality Roses whilst connecting well with the shooting end. More changes soon followed from both benches as Fadoju was re-introduced in defence in place of London Pulse teammate Adio whilst Reflioe Nketsa and Nichola Smith came on for the SPAR Proteas in place of Khanyisa Chawane and Karla Pretorius. Little could separate the two sides after the break as they went goal-for-goal for much of the third quarter. But just before the end, the SPAR Proteas edged back the deficit as they swung the ball well across the circle to create space. In the final moments, the SPAR Proteas came close to bringing the score back to five but Williams picked off a brilliant intercept on the edge of the circle before Cardwell put up her 29th goal of the game to make it 43-36.

Quarter Four
After losing the third quarter, the Vitality Roses came out fired up and quickly gained possession of the visitors’ centre pass as Fadoju picked up a rebound under the post. Glasgow was reintroduced for Neil who had formed a solid partnership with Cardwell since the second quarter. Just a minute later, Williams thwarted the South Africa midcourt as they looked for the long feed into the circle. With just over five minutes to play, the captain was replaced by Jayda Pechova, another young Vitality Rose making her home debut. Another Allison intercept was met with cheers from the stands but South Africa swiftly silenced the crowd turning over possession as they reduced the gap to just four. The visitors pressed on in the final minute to cut the deficit even further but the Vitality Roses held on to take a 54-51 win.

Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby commented after the game: “We know we’ve got more to come but I’m really pleased with the players that came off the bench.

“To know we’ve got more to come and take the win against a stellar team like South Africa with really experienced players is a great sign but we know that the performance will need to improve for Saturday.

Berri Neil, who started her netball career in the region, added: “I’ve always dreamed of playing for England, in England, and to do it here in Manchester is even more special, especially as I had family and friends here who have never seen me play for England.

“We’ve got such a tight-knit group. Everyone in the team is so lovely and I’m loving being a part of it at the moment.”

Captain for the series, Fran Williams, reflected on the win: “The first half felt really calm but in the second half it got a bit scrappier and we gave up a bit too much ball. A South Africa team are never going to go down without a fight against England and they came out in the third quarter and were dominant, physical and caught us off the ball. We just need make sure we’re ready and make sure we can have a start like we had today and hold out even longer.”

Vitality Roses starting seven: Halimat Adio (GK), Fran Williams (GD), Funmi Fadoju (WD), Imogen Allison (C), Hannah Joseph (WA), Sasha Glasgow (GA), Eleanor Cardwell (GS)

Substitutes: Berri Neil, Jayda Pechova, Ellie Rattu, Alicia Scholes, Olivia Tchine

South Africa starting seven: Phumza Maweni (GK), Karla Pretorius (GD), Jeante Strydom (WD), Khanyisa Chawane (C), Bongiwe Msomi (WA), Nichole Taljaard (GA), Ine-Mari Venter (GS)

Substitutes: Kamogelo Maseko, Boitumelo Mahloko, Refiloe Nketsa, Nicola Smith, Rolene Streutker

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