England netball head coach Jess Thirlby was thrilled with the challenge presented to her side as the Vitality Roses ran out 70-54 winners over the Vitality Superleague All Stars in the first of the three-game Legends Series.
The Roses, playing their first game on home soil and fourth in total since last January, were made to work hard for the win by the assortment of international talent included in Karen Greig’s side.
And it took the introduction of Eleanor Cardwell to partner Nat Haythornthwaite in the third quarter for England to really start motoring as they powered away after a tight opening half – goal keeper Razia Quashie also starring.
With the likes of Helen Housby, Beth Coben and Layla Guscoth all making their returns to action, Thirlby took great delight in the welcome return to action on UK courts as she continues to plan for the defence of the Commonwealth Games title in Birmingham in 18 months’ time.
“What a great game,” Thirlby said. “We knew we were going to be pushed, we wanted to be challenged and we certainly got that from the All Stars.
“I thought we grew into the game, we were tactically a bit slow early on. Coming off of the back of the series in New Zealand, the third quarter was key.
“It’s always pleasing when you put some changes out onto the court and they work. Defensively I thought we grew into the game.
“It’s really special for us, it’s a massive milestone for Beth [Cobden] in particular. It’s so special to welcome back three players of that calibre.”
The hosts had been due to face Jamaica in a four-match series but, when travel restrictions put paid to that, Manchester Thunder head coach Greig decided to take charge of a Superleague All Stars squad and challenge Thirlby’s side in a three-match series at the Sir David Wallace Arena in Loughborough.
With an experimental young side featuring in a 3-0 defeat in New Zealand in October and November, this contest represented a first chance in some time for Thirlby to see the full array of talents at her disposal.
However, given the Covid-19 enforced lack of action, a natural amount of rust and nerves were on display in the early exchanges.
These were gradually shaken off as the game developed and the Roses racked up a 14-11 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Things did certainly not go all their own way though, the All Stars starting strongly thanks to great combinations between Sam May and Jo Trip alongside a standout take and finish from shooter Joyce Mvula.
In the second quarter, the All Stars continued to give England plenty of things to think about – getting to within two points of their opponents at one stage.
Having withstood their pressure, Jess Thirlby’s side showed all their pedigree to stretch their advantage to six at the half-time break – leading 31-25.
The Roses then took charge of the contest in the pivotal third quarter, with the introduction of Cardwell alongside Haythornthwaite proving key.
Their partnership served to drive England forward and helped break up the All Stars defence at will, a free-flowing attack on display seeing the Roses accelerate away as they registered an impressive 20 goals to pull into a 51-37 lead.
And they continued to shine through and show their class in the final quarter, scoring another 19 goals to prevail.