Fun Facts and Features from the World of Sport

On top Down Under

• Posted in Australia / Misc. • By JoeBaker

The 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in Brisbane, Australia, had numerous highlights and stand-out moments. Few however matched the drama, tension and unbridled joy for those involved than England’s last-gasp win over the hosts and favourites Australia.

With just a couple of seconds left on the clock Jo Harten had the chance to win it and shock the sport by defeating the World Champions and overwhelming favourites. She missed – only for the rebound to be collected by fellow goal-scoring predator Helen Housby. She made no mistake, the game ending 52-51 and Tracy Neville’s squad collapsing to the ground in a combination of shock and exhaustion at the scale of what they had just achieved.

After the glory of England’s women winning Olympic Hockey gold in 2016 and the cricket side winning the World Cup last year, in 2018 it was time for netball to take centre stage in front of 8,000 fans in the Gold Coast’s packed Coomera sports centre. Before Brisbane, England’s best performances had seen them win three bronze medals. Another last-gasp goal in the semi-final against Jamaica had taken the Roses to what was their first global final for 43 years after falling at the final four at all of the last five Commonwealth Games. On the other hand, Australia had the same number of golds as well as two silvers after defeats to New Zealand, with the two nations dominating the sport for many years. And the team England lost to in that final way back in 1974? Australia. If there was one gold medal that the hosts expected to take from these Games, it was in the netball. In sport, you should never assume anything…

As a spectacle it was fantastic for netball. Taking place in an electric atmosphere, a tight game consistently swung from one side to the other at a frenetic and intense pace. It really was edge of the seat stuff. At the half way stage, they were inseparable at 25 points apiece. Going into the final quarter there was still only two points between them thanks to Steph Wood scoring for Australia with the final throw of the third quarter to give her country a 38-36 lead. That was quickly extended by a further four points and it looked like England were finally being overwhelmed by the ten-time World Champions. Yet they came back, showing the game management and mental fortitude of champions to snatch it at the last and spark scenes of English ecstasy.

After spending so long in the international shadows, this was the breakthrough England needed. With netball still mysteriously being omitted from the Olympics, a Commonwealth Games gold is the biggest title around. It is widely known how popular netball is in the UK – it has become the country’s number one female participation sport with approximately 1.4 million women or girls playing in a standard season. The fact England now have one of the best international sides in the world can only inspire even more to take to the courts. This was quality English netball being given the platform it deserved, with a defence inspired by Geva Mentor brilliantly snuffing out Australia’s dangerous attack and offensive players such as Harten and Housby ruthlessly making the most of any chance going their way. With what is now a thriving and popular Netball Super League, England now has the international standing to match this domestic quality.

Indeed, those inspired by this wonderful tournament for the Roses should also take note of how many of them have got to the level they are at today. Interestingly, several England’s star performers now ply their trade in either Australia or New Zealand. The previously mentioned Housby, Harten and Mentor all play Down Under in the Suncorp Super Netball league for NSW Swifts, GIANTS Netball and Sunshine Coast Lightening respectively. What’s more, Chelsea Pitman currently turns out for Adelaide Thunders, Jo Hartern for the GIANTS and Ama Agbeze for New Zealand’s Northern Stars. In total, Agbeze and Mentor have played in six Commonwealth Games and have three bronze medals between them. Such experienced players don’t necessarily need to step out of their comfort zones any more, yet they still want to test and push themselves as much as they can. The move to an unfamiliar environment to enhance their games is something young players of all levels should take note of.

So, after such a memorable tournament and consummate final performance, what now for this England side? The fact that the next Netball World Cup in 2019 is taking place in Liverpool is ideal. It represents the perfect opportunity to keep riding the crest of the wave they have built on the Gold Coast and prove that this was not a one off. Domestically, these players will now need to learn to deal with a more intense spotlight from fans and media in the Netball Super League, and it will be intriguing to see how the younger players develop and handle the pressure.

It was a tournament of firsts for English netball – a first Commonwealth final, a first ever win against Australia in a major tournament and their first ever gold medal. It was the greatest result in their history. On top Down Under? It doesn’t get any better than that…

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