Looking back on all four games of the Quad Series, the England Roses will come away with a myriad of positives to take into 2022. However, it’s unfortunate that their last quarter of the series was perhaps their weakest, leaving many fans wondering ‘what if’.
There are some solid options.
One of the Roses strengths, on full display throughout the Quad Series, was their experience. Geva Mentor reached the milestone of 150 caps in England’s first game against South Africa, while Jade Clarke reached 180. In half of the Roses games, Clarke had more international experience than the entire opposition combined. The value of that was on full display in England’s victory over New Zealand, with Clarke coming from the bench as the ultimate impact player driving the game momentum back in her team’s direction. That huge impact off the bench made it all the more surprising that Clarke didn’t see any court time in the final against Australia, with Laura Malcolm instead being bought on as fresh legs at Centre.
In the defensive, England showed that they have three world-class options to choose from. The aforementioned Mentor has been a rock at the back for over a decade, but in this series Layla Guscouth and Eboni Usoro-Brown were perhaps even more impressive, shutting down opposition shooters for significant chunks of the game. The different combinations all seemed to work effectively at points giving head coach Jess Thirlby a range of top-notch options.
Demanding their spot on the team.
At the other end of the court, we perhaps starting to get some clarity on the shooting depth chart heading into the Commonwealth Games. With Jo Harten absent due to a positive Covid-19 test, George Fisher and Ellie Cardwell had the opportunity to stake their claim to a spot in the squad and it was Cardwell who grabbed it with both hands. Dominant performances across all four games, including a fan-pleasing physical duel with Courtney Bruce in the final, made her one of the Roses’ stars of the tournaments and a matchup nightmare for the opposition. While Fisher showed spurts of the dominant performances, she has been putting up week in and week out for Southern Steel in the New Zealand domestic competition, she was left in some unenviable spots, most notably being asked to enter the game and hit the ground running in the final quarter of the final.
Who will fill this position?
Perhaps England’s biggest question mark remains their depth at Wing Attack. Regular starter Nat Metcalf played well, but not quite to the same level as in the recent Jamaica series, where she was awarded Player of the Tournament. In particular, there were a series of frustrating turnovers to former Swifts teammate Sarah Klau in the two games against Australia. Behind Metcalf, both Malcolm and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis saw limited minutes at Wing Attack, but it’s a spot that remains a selection headache for Jess Thirlby.
What went wrong?
A Quad Series review for the England Roses can only really finish with the end to their tournament, a fourth-quarter collapse to the Diamonds. After pulling off reasonably comfortable victories over South Africa and New Zealand, along with a last-second draw with Australia in the group games, for three-quarters England looked extremely competitive in the final. But after the somewhat perplexing decisions to replace Cardwell with Fisher at Goal Shooter and to bring on Malcolm rather than Clarke at Centre, it all fell apart with an 18-5 last quarter drubbing to see Australia cruise to the Quad Series title. In fairness to England, the Diamonds played exceptionally well, and it may simply have been the cumulative effect of four quarters of Steph Wood and Gretel Bueta that finally took its toll, but many were left wondering if the Roses had missed their best opportunity to claim a first Quad Series trophy.
Despite the disappointing ending, the Quad Series must be seen as a success for Jess Thirlby’s team. England looked a better team than South Africa and New Zealand and more than held their own against Australia over seven quarters. The fact many will be disappointed with the final outcome is perhaps the greatest indication of how far the Roses have come and shows they will be a real chance to defend their Commonwealth gold medal in Birmingham later this year.