The Australian Diamonds have made a winning start to the New Year, defeating England 58-52 in the opening match of the three-Test series at Liverpool’s Echo Arena.
The new-look Diamonds led at every break and withstood a last quarter fightback from the Roses to claim a 1-0 lead in the series that now heads to London for the second and third Tests.
Goal keeper Sharni Layton was named Player of the Match after claiming a game-high six intercepts and five deflections, stepping up in the absence of regular captain Laura Geitz as the defensive general.
Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander was pleased by the way her team ran out the match after being challenged several times throughout by the Roses.
“It was a really sensational game from the intensity point of view for us,” Alexander said post-game.
“I was very impressed with our fitness. They’ve worked very hard at our training camps, we’ve been a bit more specific with our court fitness and they’re really looking good out there.
“We’ve got a good squad of 12 (on tour). We can interchange and we can make sure we can rest legs.
“We’re really trying to push it. We played fast and we play very skillful netball and there just some slight errors we need to work on at training. Overall it was a very fast-paced game and the crowd would have enjoyed that.”
The six-goal victory was Australia’s first win on English soil since February 2010, having lost the corresponding 2013 series 3-0.
Alexander sprung some surprises in her starting line-up with Caitlin Thwaites and Gretel Tippett beginning in the goal circle, pushing the experienced Natalie Medhurst out to the unfamiliar role of wing attack.
Ashleigh Brazill started in centre with Gabi Simpson at wing defence while Layton and acting captain Clare McMeniman filled the defensive posts.
Both teams began cautiously in the first international to be played under the new rules introduced by the International Netball Federation.
Alexander was pleased with how quickly the Medhurst-Tippett-Thwaites combination clicked into gear as the Diamonds led by two goals at quarter-time.
“I thought our youngsters got out there and did a great job particularly Gretel Tippett in that first half. I loved watching her defensive work and combination with Caity (Thwaites) and Nat,” Alexander said.
England had the better for most of the second quarter, with young gun Helen Housby and shooter Rachel Dunn capitalising on some uncharacteristic Australian turnovers to lead by two goals late in the term.
But Layton stepped up to change the momentum of the game. The joint vice-captain produced some timely intercepts which Thwaites and Tippett converted as the Diamonds went on a 6-0 run to take a four-goal lead into half-time.
Alexander reverted to her triumphant Netball World Cup shooting combination to start the second half with Medhurst moving to goal attack and Caitlin Bassett coming into goal shooter.
Paige Hadley took over at wing attack while April Brandley (nee Letton) replaced McMeniman at goal defence in her first appearance at international level since Australia Day 2013.
The Diamonds took control of the match mid-way through the term to open up an eight-goal lead with Bassett finding her range quickly.
Melbourne Vixens’ midcourter Liz Watson replaced Brazill in centre to begin the last quarter to become Australia’s 168th capped player and she immediately found her groove with some quick-ball movement into the goal circle.
The Roses rallied late to reduce the deficit from eight goals to three and ultimately won the last quarter by a goal.
Official Result & Statistics
AUSTRALIAN DIAMONDS (58) defeated ENGLAND (52)
Australian Diamonds shooting statistics
Caitlin Thwaites 21/25 (84%)
Caitlin Bassett 20/21 (95%)
Gretel Tippett 9/14 (64%)
Natalie Medhurst 8/9 (89%)
England shooting statistics
Helen Housby 31/33 (91%)
Rachel Dunn 21/24 (88%)
Click here for complete match statistics.