After a heart-breaking, narrow defeat to New Zealand yesterday, the Roses beat South Africa 58-42 to win bronze at their home World Cup today.
“It was tough. We’ve been there before but I’m really proud of the way the group managed their feelings last night and this morning. The nation and the country got what they deserved and we got what we deserved as well.
“Before we even left the building yesterday (after defeat to New Zealand), we tried to right the wrongs. The Silver Ferns were better than us.
“Sometimes you blame yourself and lose your connection (as a team), but we stayed connected last night. We had a few fun games, did some homework on South Africa, and we looked at the game plan. We kept working and it shows on the court today.”
Harten also paid tribute to coach Tracey Neville, who has announced her intention to step down after this tournament.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for her – the way she was thrust into this job four years ago…it was manic. It wasn’t the ideal scenario and she struggled for a couple of years trying to find her own style and forge the team into what it is now.
“She stuck to her guns and she’s been a force to be reckoned with on the international stage. She deserves a break away from sport, potentially.
“We’re really proud of her. It’s hard to imagine what it will be like without Tracey. We’ve been under her rule for four years and she’s so passionate. We’re all such believers in her work.”
Tracey Neville’s Roses defeated South Africa to record a third-place finish at their home World Cup, with the outstanding support at the M&S Bank Arena a constant feature of their campaign.
Geva Mentor said:
“The crowd this week has been phenomenal. Every time you hear your name being called or you see your face up on the screen, there’s a loud cheer.
“That inspires those around you and for me, it’s all about getting people involved, whether that’s at an elite level or just participating. It’s given me so many opportunities and I hope that it does for others.”
Rachel Dunn, who got a hero’s welcome on to court after the late change which the crowd had been demanding from Neville, added:
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support that the whole team has had, and that was a slightly overwhelming moment.
“It’s just been the most amazing ten days. The whole experience of our home World Cup and the fans have been amazing – I think it was their goal to make it the best World Cup by far, and from a home player perspective, they’ve got it all right. The support that we’ve had has been amazing – we’ve got the best fans in the world, hands down.”
Fran Williams said:
“The crowd was awesome today. You can tell they’re having as much fun as we are, and when people talk about the eighth player…it really feels like they’re on the court with us. They’ve just been immense from start to finish – waving us off at the hotel, in the fan park and in the arena, as well as back home on TV.”
In Tracey Neville’s last game as England coach, the Roses claimed their third successive World Cup bronze medal as they were too strong for the Proteas, who had to settle for fourth in the competition.
Backed once again by a vocal home crowd, England repeated a similar performance to the one they had produced against South Africa earlier in the tournament when they ran out 58-47 winners as Jo Harten and Helen Housby impressed.
Both sides entered the contest off the back of disappointing, narrow defeats, but neither team showed any signs of it affecting their play as the momentum of the contest swung back and forth in the lively opening exchanges.
Lenize Potgieter got South Africa off to a positive start, making her first five goal attempts and Housby, who started the game at goal shooter for England, also made a perfect start netting her first three shots as the score was 6-6 at the midway point.
As the quarter wore on, England began to force some turnovers from South Africa and as Harten settled into the game after missing her first shot of the contest, the Roses extended their lead to a many as four.
A turnover at the expense of Serena Guthrie, however, allowed South Africa to reduce the deficit back to one goal, but Harten scored her ninth consecutive goal of the quarter with just over ten seconds to go to give England a 14-12 lead.
The second quarter began with both sides showcasing their quality passing and movement as the ball moved quickly up and down the court. England were given the opportunity to build on their advantage when Maryka Holtzhausen missed her third goal attempt from seven and Housby made no mistake as England took an 18-14 lead.
England’s defence was continuing to force South Africa into errors and Harten and Housby were making them pay. The Roses’ lead was up to 23-16 at the halfway stage of the quarter after three straight goals from Housby.
The same pattern continued in the remaining minutes of the quarter as South Africa struggled to make any inroads into England’s lead, and it began to grow. Despite Potgieter keeping the scoreboard ticking for the Proteas, Housby (10/10) and Harten (5/5) were equally as good, scoring all 15 of their goal attempts as the Roses led 29-22 at half time.
South Africa coach Norma Plummer, who took charge of her 50th international for the Proteas, would have been looking for a response from her players as the second half began but it was England who started the better, scoring four of the first five goals.
Aided by captain Guthrie and Natalie Haythornthwaite, Harten and Housby continued to rack up the goals as England extended their advantage to twelve with four minutes remaining.
Potgieter and Holtzhausen both shot well for South Africa in the third quarter, but the Proteas’ general attacking play lacked consistency whereas England’s just seemed to get better. The Roses continued to build their lead and led by 14 heading into the final quarter.
The bronze medal was in the grasp of England as they began the final 15 minutes of the World Cup and the crowd knew it too ,as they created a party atmosphere as the final buzzer edged ever closer.
South Africa improved early on in the final period and began to force errors from England but any attempts to reduce the deficit were halted by Holtzhausen’s inconsistent shooting performance as she made just one of her opening five attempts.
England attacking duo of Housby and Harten just continued to shine and the host’s advantage continued to build. The Roses were much more relaxed and looked a different side from the one that had struggled against New Zealand.
As the clock ticked down, Neville began to make changes including bringing on goal shooter Rachel Dunn, who received an enormous reception as the home crowd acknowledged her and her bronze-medal winning team-mates.
South Africa’s Karla Pretorius said:
“What a journey it was for us. I feel like in this last game, we maybe didn’t play our own game, and it was because of the game they brought to us, so well done them – it was a great performance from them once again.”
England’s Rachel Dunn said:
“It was a close game yesterday, but there are close margins at the top of this sport. We were all a bit devastated yesterday, but we had time to deal with that and then today it was all about bronze. Everyone wanted to go out there and fight for it, and the girls put in an amazing performance and got that medal.”
The Roses lost their semi-final against New Zealand yesterday, meaning that they will play-off against the Proteas – who lost to Australia in the other semi-final – for the bronze medal.
“Winning is quite additive, and when you don’t get over the line it sucks. I am hurting – it’s difficult to put it into words, but as a leader I have to stay strong and I will stray strong.
“World Cups come and go, games will come and go, but the world will keep spinning.”
England were again roared on by magnificent support inside the M&S Bank Arena yesterday, and Guthrie says that the backing they have received has only added to the experience, rather than put additional pressure on.
“Everybody alluded to the fact that there would be too much pressure for us to take, but we’ve actually really enjoyed it – we’ve been in a position we’ve never been in before.
“For us against New Zealand it wasn’t the pressure of where we were, it was the pressure of a semi-final. It’s all on the line. We were two teams going intent against each other and we didn’t execute well enough.”
Despite the disappointment of the semi-final defeat, there is still a medal up for grabs, and Guthrie is determined that the Roses end their tournament on a high.
“There is still a bronze medal up for grabs and we’d love to stand on the podium on home soil. That will still be a really proud moment for us in terms of this journey we’ve been on.
“We’ve got a game to play still, as and long as we go out today and put out a good performance, I’ll be proud of the girls.
“My experience lends itself to say ‘pick yourself up’, because we’ve got a game to go and we can end up on the podium, and that’s what we wanted.”
In the second semi-final of the day, the winning margin was again just two goals, as New Zealand seized momentum at the right time to win 47-45.
After coming off court, Harten said:
“I’m utterly devastated. That was the most realistic shot we’ve had of getting into the World Cup final and we have just fallen short of our goal.”
However, Harten acknowledged the fantastic performance of the Silver Ferns, who will now play familiar foes Australia in the final.
“I’ve played with some of those players (in the New Zealand team) and I know exactly what they were going to bring: skill integrity and passion, and that was they had for the whole 60 minutes.
“They just disrupted us. We were confident of taking it to them and throughout that game we were up in patches, so we did have the ability to do it and we just wavered at a critical moment but it’s another lesson learnt.
“All credit to New Zealand – they really deserved that victory today.”
The Silver Ferns repeated their 2015 World Cup semi-final performance to knock-out Tracey Neville’s side, who were backed by an incredible home crowd.
New Zealand had won 13 of the 14 World Cup meetings between the two sides, and the Silver Ferns raced out of the blocks here, as Jane Watson in particular forced early errors from England and Maria Folau was a perfect five from five in goal attempts.
The Roses didn’t get off the mark until Helen Housby converted to make it 5-1 four minutes into the contest.
The first goal on the board for the Roses proved to be a kick-start, and they began to settle into the contest, forcing New Zealand into errors of their own, as Jo Harten and Housby reduced the deficit to 6-5.
The frantic start to the contest continued for the remainder of the quarter with both sides’ defensive pressure forcing errors from their opponents as neither side could build a lead. Harten recovered from her slow shooting start to make her final three goal attempts but at the other end, Folau kept the scoreboard ticking for New Zealand as they led 12-9 at the end of the period.
England opened the scoring in the second quarter through Harten and they looked more confident in their all-round play, levelling the contest at 13-13.
A poor pass from Chelsea Pitman allowed New Zealand to retake the lead, and England began to pay for their sloppy passing when in possession and Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio shot at 90%.
The Silver Ferns led by six with six minutes remaining until half time, but England once again fought their way back into the contest. Geva Mentor and Eboni Usoro-Brown set the tempo defensively and – energised by the unbelievable noise created by the crowd – the Roses scored ten of the next 11 goals to completely turn the game on its head and lead 24-21 at half time.
Housby, who shot brilliantly in the first half, making 14 of her 16 goal attempts, picked up where she left off making her first goal attempt of the third quarter to answer Folau’s opening goal. New Zealand had the better of the opening exchanges though and they scored three straight goals to level the contest at 25-25.
England were finding a way to keep their noses in front, however, including some superb athleticism from Serena Guthrie as the two sides continued to trade goals.
The back-and-forth continued until a loose pass from Housby allowed New Zealand to force a turnover which Ekenasio converted, giving New Zealand a 32-31 lead.
It was the swing of momentum the Silver Ferns had been looking for and Ekenasio and Folau combined to extend New Zealand’s lead to four before Housby’s last shot of the quarter reduced the score to 36-33.
With the score at 38-34 early in the final quarter, Harten forced a New Zealand turnover which allowed England to reduce the deficit to two. However, the impressive shooting from Folau and Ekenasio didn’t allowed the Roses to build any kind of momentum.
Both sides were beginning to feel the pressure as the quarter ticked on as England once again reduced the deficit to two with five minutes remaining, but New Zealand kept responding as the contest continued to ebb and flow.
Harten made the score 45-43 with two minutes left on the clock, but New Zealand managed to control the tempo and keep possession, as their nerveless shooters helped to take them into a familiar-looking World Cup final.
England coach Tracey Neville said:
“I’m proud. The girls gave it their all and we were playing against a world-class team. It was do-or-die, the pressure was on the team and we didn’t start well enough. Some of the basic errors were things we haven’t done during this tournament, and we just didn’t have the legs at the end to get back into the game.”
New Zealand’s Laura Langman, said:
“Everyone out there did their jobs and did them well for 60 minutes. To play on a stage like that was a pretty special moment.”
The most-capped England player of all time on 166 international appearances and counting, Clarke is understandably savouring every moment.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s semi-final against New Zealand, she said:
“We’re loving (being in Liverpool). We love the city itself, we love going out for coffee, seeing the lovely buildings. The support has been absolutely phenomenal.
“You can’t walk down the street without people wishing you good luck which shows how friendly the city is. It properly feels like home now – we’ve had some really good games and some really good times.
“You feel like a rock star. Everything little good thing you do, there’s a wave of support. It makes the nerves go away. We had a long wait for the game (against South Africa). Sometimes that makes you a little more nervous when you wait all day, but as soon as you get to the stadium, all the Pivoteers wished us good luck.
“It makes you feel like if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter, and you can keep going because you’ve thousands of people right behind you.”
Having beaten South Africa in their last game, the momentum is behind England as they look to reach Sunday’s showpiece final, and that was always the intended outcome from the final group match of the Preliminaries Stage Two, as Clarke outlines.
“We could have said ‘we’re in the semi-final no matter what’ so we could have been a bit flat, but we really wanted to be dominant and come first in this side of the table.
“We want to keep building momentum. It wasn’t the perfect performance but we’ll take a lot from it: it’s important that we’re getting the wins on the board and keeping that confidence building.
“South Africa are such a good team. They’ve got (Karla) Pretorius who is one of the best defenders in the world right now. It’s another game under our belts with the defensive unit working together, so we’ll take a lot from that.”
The Silver Ferns are next up, the team against which Clarke made her senior England debut back in 2003.
Of their current threat, she said:
“We’re expecting a world-class team: New Zealand have been there and done it all before; they’ve got experience.
“Our coaches will be looking at New Zealand, putting little video clips together for us. It’s a bit of a different style again – that’s the thing about the World Cup: one day, you’re playing a one-on-one team and the next you’re playing a zone, so that’ll be another thing to think about. That’s something that we really sink our teeth into and we can rise to the challenge.”
Having won gold at the Commonwealth Games last year, this tournament was always likely to be a watershed moment for English netball.
Following the exploits of the England football team at Women’s World Cup, a brilliant summer of women’s sport across the country could yet be capped with a first ever Netball World Cup triumph for the Roses. That would be a truly special end to Clarke’s fifth World Cup, at which she is an official ambassador for the competition.
“I’ve heard the crowd singing ‘It’s coming home’ during the games. It would mean so much. We got so involved in the football and the tennis, and just to reward everyone who’s working hard to get netball on TV and get netball in the media, it would mean a lot to give something back to them and have something to celebrate.
“A few people have asked me if I feel more pressure because it’s a home World Cup, but I’ve been playing with England for a long time. We’ve dreamed of being in that position where people are expecting us to win, so I’m just enjoying it.
“This is what we’ve worked so hard for. All the past players, all the past coaches, all the past captains, who have got us to this position, where we can win it – I’m just enjoying it and I see it as a huge opportunity.”
It wouldn’t just be England players and fans that the win would mean such a lot to, either. After the tournament, coach Tracey Neville will step down from her role in order to start a family – and there would be no better way with which to bow out than by winning as hosts.
“Back in 2002, she was a player when I was a player, and now she’s the coach. Something that’s stayed true is her passion for netball and she has pushed us so far. We want to do it for her, for the fans and for ourselves.”
Already into the semi-finals, Neville’s Roses beat South Africa 58-47 to win their group and set up a semi-final with New Zealand on Saturday.
Afterwards, Neville said:
“It was about working on the things we wanted to accomplish quarter-by-quarter, that we actually didn’t quite nail last night (against Trinidad and Tobago) and we didn’t quite nail in the Jamaica game.
“Every day is a building day – we’ve not had long together with this squad so we have to utilise these match opportunities to really work on the strength of what we’re doing in our team.
“I think we did that tonight – I think we were very clinical in that first quarter, however South Africa are a world-class team, we’ve had some great battles against them and it was never going to be over until the last whistle. They kept pushing us to the end.”
Neville took the opportunity to make some changes to her line-up as the fourth quarter progressed, with captain Serena Guthrie and Jo Harten among those brought off court as the match entered its closing stages.
“We knew we were going to make changes at some point, it was just the stage at which we wanted to. We’re trying to manage workload, as we’re coming to the business end of the tournament. Even coming off for ten minutes reduces player load, so that’s absolutely crucial for us.”
England were again roared on by a passionate crowd inside the M&S Bank Arena, and Neville believes that the home support is becoming more and more of an asset as the tournament goes on.
“The crowd was absolutely amazing tonight, but for me they’ve been amazing all the way through this tournament. At first it was a bit intimidating, but now it’s an expectation – we want them to shout, and it’s becoming something that is driving us.”
England recorded a sixth successive victory in the tournament thanks in the main to an utterly dominant first half, during which they displayed flair and control at both ends of the court.
England coach Tracey Neville named a strong starting line-up for the match, the result of which would decide who would contest which semi-final.
Her counterpart, Nora Plummer, elected to leave Erin Burger on the bench.
South Africa made the first error of the match, as the ball bounced out of play early on. England capitalised, as two goals from Helen Housby gave the Roses a 5-2 advantage.
England were clicking into gear early on, but by contrast South Africa suffered a huge blow when their influential centre, Bongiwe Msomi, limped off with a knock.
Harten and Housby looked in sumptuous form, and the partisan crowd lapped up the performance as a confident-looking England extended their lead out to 16-9.
There was still time for an increase in the noise levels in the first quarter though, as the irrepressible Harten delighted the Roses fans with a long-range effort that gave a 19-11 gloss to the scoreline.
The Roses were in danger of disappearing out of sight early in the second quarter, as Harten and Housby continued their own personal scoring battle. Harten overtook Housby to lead that contest 12-11, while South Africa were evidently missing the dynamism usually provided by Msomi.
Harten was flawless up until this point, whereas at the other end, Maryka Holtzhausen was finding that luck was deserting her, as another of her attempts bounced out.
The first blot on Harten’s copy book arrived late in the first half, but her clinical performance up until then helped England to a 31-20 lead at the break.
England continued to move the ball with confidence in the third quarter, and Housby was the first to register in the second half.
The Proteas surged back though, and were given renewed hope by an upping in their intensity and a couple of uncharacteristic England errors.
Harten restored England’s ten-goal cushion as the score moved out to 38-28, and the South African third-quarter revival was brought to an abrupt end as England finished the quarter with a flurry of Housby and Harten goals giving them a 43-30 advantage ahead of the final quarter.
For the fourth quarter, Sigrid Burger was brought in to lead the South African attack, but an early miss allowed the Roses to extend their lead to 46-33.
South Africa again came back fighting, and would win the final quarter by two – England’s first quarter-defeat in the tournament up until now – but Neville took the opportunity to switch her line-up around with the semi-final now firmly in mind.
Serena Guthrie and Jo Harten were among those rested, but Housby remained on for the full match and fittingly ended the England scoring, netting her 24th as the Roses ran out 58-47 winners.
The semi-final line-up is now complete: England will face New Zealand and South Africa take on holders Australia.
England’s Geva Mentor said:
“We weren’t too sure what to expect – obviously South Africa had a really good performance against Jamaica earlier in the week, but for us it was important that we focused on ourselves and started strong, and I thought we did that.
“We were really pleased with that performance and how it sets us up for the semi-final on Saturday.”
The Roses defeated Trinidad and Tobago – their fifth win from five – earlier today, and their place in the last four was confirmed when South Africa beat Uganda in the day’s final match.
Afterwards, Harten said:
“We couldn’t be happier or more proud of ourselves to get to this point, but now there’s another step up tomorrow and into the weekend as well.
“It takes some of the pressure off your shoulders. When you’re at home, you have expectation to perform, and making that top four – making the semi-final – is where we wanted to be, and we’ve done it in style.”
England now face South Africa in their final Group G game tomorrow, with the winner topping the group. Australia and New Zealand play each other in the morning – a fixture which will confirm the winner of Group F.
Harten said of the challenge of South Africa:
“I reckon South Africa are going to bring it. I reckon they think they can probably beat us. They’ll have looked at that game today and probably seen a few weaknesses in our game which is fair, but we’ve been looking at them the whole way through.
“They pipped us in January in the Quad Series, so we’re not taking them lightly. We want to win every game we play in this World Cup and we know that’s what it takes to be world champions.
“We want to win every single game and beat every opposition we face. That’s the mentality of this team – that’s always been our aim coming through this season and into the World Cup, so bring it on.”