England’s netball team will leave Birmingham empty handed after a 55-48 defeat against New Zealand in a bruising Commonwealth Games bronze-medal match.
Despite beating the world champions in the pool stages, the Roses had no answers as the Silver Ferns exacted perfect revenge through the 20-year-old shooter Grace Nweke to deny England tangible consolation from these Games.
In a match of high stakes, both teams entered the game licking wounds, with England pained having surrendered their title in the semi-finals to Australia, and New Zealand having fallen against Jamaica.
The battle at both ends caught the eye early on as the first quarter went goal-for-goal. New Zealand’s 6ft 3in Kelly Jury wrapped herself around the Roses shooter Eleanor Cardwell while Geva Mentor tried to blunt Nweke. The deadlock was broken by the Ferns, reaping the reward for their zonal pressure to edge 14-13 ahead.
New Zealand’s grip on the centre court tightened in the second quarter. Their captain, Gina Crampton, ran riot in wing attack, clocking 20 assists in the half to allow Nweke to keeping the scoreline ticking over.
When the Silver Ferns put up a string of four unanswered goals the England head coach, Jess Thirlby, made the first of several changes. But it did little to change the scoreline; New Zealand entered the break five goals up.
If the shortcoming in England’s defeat against Australia was an inability to turn over ball, then it clearly had not been addressed in their hunt for bronze. Though the Roses made more of an impression on their opposition in the second half – drawing the third quarter and losing the fourth by one – they struggled to dispossess their opponents.
In all, England produced just eight gains while committing seven turnovers. New Zealand, meanwhile, sensing their opposition’s weakness, remained precious in possession and committed to supplying Nweke.
Though the rallying cries of a packed NEC Arena poured down, defeat came for England, the final whistle signalling the end of a campaign for gold that, ultimately, resulted in fourth place.
“It’s really sad. I think we’re going to be feeling a bit bruised for a while,” Thirlby said. “I think we were well in the game after the opening 15 minutes. The second quarter was the only quarter of a margin that most probably killed us.
“We were with them for long periods but when you’re looking at the top four teams five goals in one quarter is tough to claw back. And we were found trying to get some turnover ball again. We were sloppy when we did find ball turnover taking it through the court. You can’t throw ball into hand four times against world-class opposition such as New Zealand. That can be the difference.
“I believe 100% we are capable of taking the teams in the top four. We’ve not proven that to everyone. It’s a measure of the here-and-now and we’ve fallen short in two of the games and top-quality opposition.”