As sporting contests go, it doesn’t get much better than this. The top three nations in the world, competing ahead of a major championships, in front of a packed crowd in some of the country’s biggest venues.
England’s netballers, who placed third at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, will have to settle a few old scores when they meet the world numbers one and two, New Zealand and Australia in a one-off test series from 13-17 May 07. This is the first time that the world’s top two has travelled to England to play a tri-series against the home nation, and England head coach Marg Caldow will be watching closely to assess the form of not only the England Open squad, but also the England A squad which completes the series line up, ahead of November’s World Championships in Auckland.
England’s line up is a mixture of new and emerging talent and experienced internationals, like captain Amanda Newton. And, for Newton, the series is another milestone after her stunning recovery from a career-threatening knee injury.
Newton, a member of England’s bronze medal winning teams at the 1996 World Youth Championships, 1998 Commonwealth Games and 1999 World Championships, ruptured her Anterior Cruciate Ligament in 2003 and missed two full international seasons during her recovery, but was recalled to the England squad in 2005-6 after impressive performances in domestic competitions. Despite narrowly missing out on England’s 2006 Commonwealth Games squad, Amanda co-captained Mavericks to the runners’ up spot in the 2006 Superleague, and was selected for the England tour to Fiji last June, during which she impressed both on and off the court.
But, despite all these successes, Newton is under no illusions about the challenges which face her team in the coming weeks: “We want to be the best in the world, and we believe we have the players to achieve this, but we still have so much to learn. We are all working hard on all aspects of our game and this test series is an opportunity for us to test how far we’ve come. As a team, we have set ourselves achievable goals based on the ability of our squad at the beginning of the season, and now it’s time for us to see how we are progressing.”
|The presence of an England A squad to complete the line up in the Test series is also a bonus for the national side’s preparations for November’s World Championships: “Everyone has been working so hard, particularly in the build up to this series, and the competition for places in the national squad has been intense. Fortunately for us, we have an England A team in the mix as well, which will give all our players exposure to the world’s top two, and ensure that we all know what will face us in November.”|
In addition to regular squad training, the England side goes into the test series at the end of a full Netball Superleague season, which has been packed with drama and pressurised situations.
And, as Newton knows, this is exactly the sort of preparation which the squad needs ahead of the test series: “Putting ourselves under pressure is what it’s all about. We have many areas to improve in our game, and we are all working hard both on and off the court.”
And word of England’s improvement has reached Southern shores as well: Adine Wilson, New Zealand’s captain, will not be underestimating the opposition when they step on court on 13 May: “We may have beaten England by 15 goals the last time that we met, at the Commonwealth Games, but a little birdie tells us that England are looking pretty hot, so there is no chance we will be taking them lightly. Every year, England seem to come out stronger and fitter, and no doubt this will be the case during the tri series. We are not naïve enough to think that it will be a two horse race.”
For Australia, Liz Ellis is equally aware of the improvements which have been happening in the England squad: “England can now boast that they are really strong all over the court. Whilst they have had one of the best defensive lines in the world for a few years, they are now backed up by a pretty impressive attacking lin up. I don’t think there will be one area to target: rather, we need to be on our game all over the court.”
For Newton, it is key that England gets off to a good start, backed by a vociferous home crowd: “Playing a test series at home is always special, and it’s great for our sport and the spectators that Australia and New Zealand are coming over to play us. I know for a fact that the Test matches will be sold out, and as players it makes it more special playing at home.”
Tickets for all three test matches are on sale now, but selling fast, so book your seats for some of the best netball to be played anywhere in the world this year!
13 May 07 Manchester Evening News Arena, Manchester
5.30pm England A vs Australia--Australia def England A 63-25
7.45pm England vs New Zealand---England def New Zealand 50-45
Box office: 0870 190 8000 or www.men-arena.com
15 May 07 National Indoor Arena, Birmingham
5.30pm England vs England A--England Senior Team def England A 65-21
7.45pm Australia vs New Zealand---Australia def New Zealand 50-47
Box Office; 0870 909 4144 or www.necgroup.co.uk/boxoffice
17 May 07 Earl’s Court Arena, London
5.30pm England A vs New Zealand
7.45pm England vs Australia
Box Office: 0870 903 9033 or www.eco.co.uk