It may have surprised many – including England coach Tracey Neville – to see Australian shooter Natalie Medhurst starting the opening Test in the unfamiliar role at wing attack.
Medhurst has forged a reputation over the past decade as one of the classiest goal attacks in the ANZ Championship and at international level.
Long-time followers struggled to remember the last time Medhurst hadn’t worn either the GA or GS bib domestically or for her country.
But Medhurst was excited to embrace the challenge thrown to her pre-game by coach Lisa Alexander of playing her 78th Test out in front of the Diamonds shooting combination of Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett.
Medhurst, who celebrated her 32nd birthday in Australia’s 58-52 victory over the Roses at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, spent the first half feeding Thwaites and Tippett and working high up the court to set up play before reverting to the familiar surrounds of the goal circle in the second half.
Medhurst revealed after the match that during last year’s Constellation Cup series against New Zealand Alexander had been tempted to use her at wing attack but it never eventuated.
“They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks so it was a nice challenge,” Medhurst said.
“There’s still a lot of work for me to do in that position. It does take a little bit of adjusting but, for me, I play a bit of a feeder role (as a goal attack) anyway.
“So it wasn’t too difficult. It’s making sure I’m not running into the circle and staying on side.
“It was a good challenge for me and where I’m at in my career. It was probably something I needed to keep me guessing and excited and challenged in the sport.”
Medhurst shot eight goals at 89 per cent accuracy in the second half as she and Caitlin Bassett (20 goals at 95 per cent accuracy) showed why they’re still one of the world’s most potent shooting combinations.
While it was Australia’s first win on English soil since 2010, Medhurst said the Diamonds had plenty to work on leading into the second Test of the series in London on Saturday morning (AEDT).
“(We need to work on our) combinations, they do take time,” she said. “Our full court defensive pressure and placement on the pass all over the court was a little bit sloppy.
“That will be something we need to work on. It’s a very quick turnaround between each game.”
It was the first match played under the new rules introduced by the International Netball Federation and Medhurst said she felt they worked “pretty seamless” over the 60 minutes.
“I like that quick play on they’ve introduced into the game. You’re really able to catch the opposition off guard, which I think is great, and you can utilise that extremely well,” Medhurst said.
The other highlight of Australia’s victory came when Melbourne Vixens midcourter Liz Watson became the 168th capped Australian player after replacing Ashleigh Brazill at centre to start the final quarter.
The 21-year-old admitted her introduction to international netball was “a bit of a blur” but said coach Lisa Alexander encouraged her to play the style that earned her selection in the team.
“She said `play your game, you know the structures and what we’ve been working on,” Watson said of the coach’s three-quarter time message. “Have some fun was her last words.
“It’s good to get the first one out of the way. I’m looking forward to moving onto the second and third (Tests) now.”