The Vitality Roses beat Uganda 50-46 to take the opening match of the Vitality Netball International Series as they played on home soil for the first time since being crowned Commonwealth Games champions.
It was a closely-fought and physical affair against the She Cranes, who the Vitality Roses had last faced on their way to winning gold in April, and England were mentally strong and tenacious in seeing off a Ugandan fightback.
Tracey Neville named five gold medallists in England’s starting seven with the Vitality Roses proudly wearing their new Nike kit for the first time.
After a warm reception from the home fans, England captain Serena Guthrie took the first centre pass for the Vitality Roses.
Natalie Haythornthwaite picked out Rachel Dunn, who linked up nicely with Guthrie to edge closer to the post, before opening the scoring. The She Cranes responded in kind immediately though, drawing level at 1-1.
It continued to go goal-for-goal in the opening stages with both Helen Housby and Uganda’s captain, Peace Proscovia, on target.
The She Cranes kept possession well and patiently worked the ball through court time and time again. Eboni Usoro-Brown read the game perfectly though to win the ball back and set the Vitality Roses on the attack with Housby putting England 7-4 in front.
The Vitality Roses continued to press Uganda and had established a five-goal lead midway through the opening quarter.
Housby displayed her aerial ability to pick off a lofted cross-court Ugandan pass with the Vitality Roses transitioning quickly through court and Dunn rewarding her teammate’s efforts.
As both teams gave it their all, Layla Guscoth was involved in a collision but quickly got back to her feet and was replaced by Jodie Gibson.
A strong first quarter left the Roses leading 15-8.
There were no changes for the Vitality Roses at the start of the second quarter, as they added two quick fire goals to their belt.
The She Cranes demonstrated good vision to retain possession following a centre pass but momentum shifted back to the Roses as Clarke – the Roses’ most-capped player – continued to show her experience and talent to win the ball back.
Excellent team work between Guthrie and Dunn meant the Roses continued to stretch their lead to 30-21 at half time.
Neville made a change at the break with Guscoth coming back on as GD and Gibson moving to WD.
Uganda started the third quarter brightly, scoring four unanswered goals before George Fisher, brought on at GS in place of Dunn, had an immediate impact with a number of goals in quick succession.
The Roses piled on the pressure against the She Cranes with Fisher extending England’s lead to eight.
The world number two worked tirelessly and went into the final quarter with the score at 38-31.
There were more changes for the Vitality Roses as the final quarter started with Haythornthwaite moving to GA, Housby taking the GS bib, Sasha Corbin coming on at WA and Clarke returning to WD.
Uganda opened up the final quarter with first centre-pass and a goal, making the score 38-32.
The She Cranes continued to keep plugging away at the gap and were back on level terms – 43-all – midway through the final 15.
But the Roses kept their cool and benefited from an overcooked pass, as well as the fantastic support from the home fans, to end the first match of the Vitality International Netball Series with a 50-46 win.
The Vitality Roses will go head-to-head with Uganda again on 30th November and 2nd December at the Copper Box Arena in London, as part of the highly anticipated three-match series.
Prior to the Vitality Netball International Series opener, Roses A put in a strong performance to beat Scotland 63-33 in the battle of the home nations.
England’s starting 7 – Dunn (GS), Housby (GA), Haythornthwaite (WA), Guthrie (C), Clarke (WD), Guscoth (GD), Usoro-Brown (GK)
Uganda’s starting 7 – Proscovia (GS), Nanyonga (GA), Meme (WA), Nakachwa (C), Namuwaya (WD), Ajio (GD), Oyella (GK)