England 66 Jamaica 70
A stepping stone is all that the Nations Cup will remain for this new-look England side who, despite pulling out all the stops in the final quarter against Jamaica, were denied their first final under Jess Thirlby’s reign.
England simply left it too little too late and their inability to recover a 12-point deficit late on means they will face a rematch with South Africa in a battle for third on Sunday. In the day’s earlier fixture, reigning world champions New Zealand maintained their unbeaten record with a 48-41 victory over the Spar Proteas to set up a final showdown with the Sunshine Girls, who proved too strong for Thirlby’s burgeoning outfit.
Famed for streamlining their attack through star goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler, the visitors set to work with finding their captain from the off with both confidence and fluency. Rarely did Fowler deviate outside the box and she snatched and clawed each looping ball out of the air when it was lobbed in her path.
With an eight-point advantage heading into the second quarter, England, for all their creativity in feeding the ball into the centre circle and striking accuracy of goal shooter Ellie Cardwell, struggled at times to assert their dominance in the midcourt.
“We knew we’d have to grind them out but you can’t give teams like Jamaica, with such a direct route to goal too big a margin to chase,” admitted Thirlby. “For the ball that we won, we gave them too much ball back. We just need to learn how to keep the numbers in our favour. At times, that’s where we fell short.”
England secured a comfortable 56-48 victory the last time they faced the Sunshine Girls en route to their World Cup bronze last summer, but with just three members from that Roses squad at the Copper Box, this was an entirely different ballgame. Against a Jamaican outfit which retained five of its players from last summer’s World Cup in Liverpool, the quality of the Roses’ output was largely unknown but ultimately, second-best.
“It’s going to be a hard one to swallow for the team,” continued Thirlby. “But we’re going to have to bounce back. We can take heart from the performance longer term, but we have to be pretty ruthless with our assessment and we didn’t bring it for long enough periods today.”
Watching her side trail 31-39 at the break prompted her to shift her personnel again, with Amy Carter entering the fray to earn her third cap at centre, supported by the experience of Chelsea Pitman in the midcourt. But even after such changes the Roses struggled to match the intensity that Jamaica offered going forward.
“It’s going to be another humdinger against South Africa,” said Thirlby. “It seems there’s never much of a margin between us and them so we’ll look forward to what will be our final and there’s lots of positives to take. Amy [Carter] won’t have played against a senior Jamaica side ever, so for her to come off the bench and look older than her years is incredibly special.”