England netball head coach Jess Thirlby was delighted that returning players have effortlessly reintegrated with the squad for the Vitality Netball Legends Series.
The Vitality Roses completed a 70-54 victory over the Vitality Superleague All Stars in the first match of a three-game series.
At the break, England held a slim 31-25 lead over Karen Greig’s side but it was the third quarter where the hosts began to increase the pressure.
Beth Cobden took to the court for the first time in over two years after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with ACL injuries, while Manchester Thunder duo Eleanor Cardwell and Laura Malcolm also came on for the Roses.
And this change in personnel helped to build England’s attacking prowess as they stretched their lead to 16 points by the end of the quarter.
Having the likes of Cobden, Layla Guscoth and Helen Housby return to the international scene was a major positive for Thirlby, who was pleased with how they ‘seamlessly’ fit back into the environment.
“I think it was an awesome battle and hopefully a good show for those watching at home,” Thirlby said.
“I think we grew into the game, but we were tactically maybe a bit slow in that first half to fix a few things.
“Every quarter is important but the third quarter was key. It’s gone in our favour but I’m sure they’ll come back at us in the second match.
“We’re very aware that they made changes too and sometimes you’ve just got to ride that wave, but we opened up attack much better in that quarter and defensively we grew into the game.
“To have those players fit in so seamlessly with the group is a testament to the environment that we’re all trying to uphold and create and it was lovely to have them back.”
Advantage Vitality Roses in the Vitality Netball Legends Series, but netball is the real winner tonight 👊
😃 Bring on games two and three! pic.twitter.com/XRtjhtC2Tr
— England Netball (at 🏡) (@EnglandNetball) January 20, 2021
Another of England’s players who had a stellar performance on court was goalkeeper Razia Quashie, who was awarded Player of the Match.
In the second half, the 23-year-old’s defensive skills were on show as she continually turned the ball and delivered it back to the attacking players.
Though the Saracens Mavericks player acknowledged it was difficult to get to grips with the All Stars combination of Caroline O’Hanlon, Liana Leota and Joyce Mvula.
But the speeches made by Thirlby and co-captain Serena Guthrie at half time inspired the team to victory.
“In the first half it was quite hard to come out and play because they’ve got a connection,” Quashie said.
“Even though Leota isn’t at Manchester Thunder anymore, she’s had that connection for many years.
“Coming on and you’ve got two people who know how to feed her and they’ve got pinpoint pass and accuracy, it’s really hard to get off the body and know where to come off to even go for an intercept. I think they did brilliant passes in, I got schooled a couple of times but lesson learnt.
“I think she [Jess Thirlby] came off and she said although that was brilliant, we had some really good statistics about centre pass through to goal, I think we just lacked the connection. As in the back two were connected but the centre passes weren’t that great.
“We all came together and Serena [Guthrie] said it’s nice to come out and play and we just need to show them who we are and come out and put on a brilliant performance.”
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