The 44-60 victory secured the series win, with the final match to be played on Sunday at the same venue. Australia powered into a 0-5 lead with England too hesitant in the shooting third and the Diamonds were in no mood to wait for them to catch up with their high-tempo start. The game balanced out for a small period midway through the first but the Roses were letting themselves get bullied by the Australian defence.
Unlike in the opening match in Liverpool, captain Sara Bayman and Jade Clarke struggled to gain any control in the centre court. A hopeful cross-court pass from Sasha Corbin didn’t help England’s cause but Helen Housby was at least sinking difficult chances to keep her side in it. But gradually England clawed back the defect, with Bayman and Clarke now dictating play and Ama Agbeze producing a string of audacious intercepts. It was some comeback from a seemingly clueless Roses team in the opening exchanges, and the first period ended 13-all.
It was a completely different England side on court at the start of the second quarter. Attacking combinations gean to click and the shooters were finding breathing space, despite relentless work from Diamonds keeper Sharni Layton. It was certainly no coincidence that this came as the basic errors disappeared. The game was now moving at a blistering speed, with Australia searching for ideas to combat England’s fluidity, who found themselves in a four-goal lead. An injury to Eboni Beckford-Chambers after an awkward landing offered up a huge opportunity for young Manchester Thunder defender Jodie Gibson. She instantly made an impact with a tip from a Caitlin Thwaites shot but unfortunately Housby failed to consolidate the turnover at the other end.
Australia coach Lisa Alexander took an injury time out to Gretal Tippet to switch up her team, bringing on Natalie Medhurst and Paige Hadley. The changes helped Diamonds regain their rhythm and the teams exchanged the lead but it was the gold and greens who edged it at the break, 23-25. The Diamonds dominated the early stages of the third quarter, with England slow to adjust to a number of changes from coach Tracey Neville. Five Manchester Thunder players were now on court, as Neville had seen enough of Rachel Dunn, moving Housby to shooter and bringing on Natalie Haythornthwaite at goal attack. Laura Malcolm entered the fray at wing defence and Clarke moved to wing attack, with Corbin making way. Ultimately it was this stage in the game where it was lost, with the Roses too slow to adapt to the changes on court.
Meanwhile, Australia kept their momentum and didn’t give England a sniff, creeping up to an eight-goal advantage. Layton’s work at the back of the court was the real driving force for the World Champions and they were forcing mistakes from England, who were panicking and had abandoned their game-plan. The Diamonds had a healthy 11-goal (33-44) lead ahead of the final quarter. They ran away were out of sight in the final quarter, dominating play across court. But there were still moments of brilliance from England and they worked hard right to the final whistle. It was important for Neville to blood her young players against such quality opposition, even if the Aussie squad was not quite at full strength and they will benefit from the experience. The champions sapped the energy out of the red and whites, with the game – and also the three match series – lost in that blistering period at the end of the third and start of the fourth. The Roses finished with a flourish but a superb Australia won it 44-60.
Report by Denise Evans