Reigning champions England cruised to a solid 66-41 victory over Malawi in the second group game of their Commonwealth campaign on Saturday.
Head coach Jess Thirlby took full advantage of the opposition’s courage to test his players, once again executing all 12 of his squad to claim an important victory in front of a sold-out NEC Arena.
With two world-class shooters in their attacking end in Australia-based Joyce Mvula and Mwai Kumwenda, and New Zealand’s hairpin from Gold Coast 2018, Malawi’s Queens have always been penned as a threat to the Roses looking to to return to- return. But from the first whistle to the last, England looked quite comfortable as they set to work beating the world No 7 team.
Although the opening stages were punctuated with physical clashes as the teams tested each other under the post, it was the Roses who took the initiative.
Striking goal Eleanor Cardwell, whose impressive impact from the bench on Friday saw her rewarded with a start, was clinical in the late shot as the 34-year-old wing defense and local Birmingham product Stacey Francis -Bayman was quick to reap the rewards of his unit on defense. Their combined efforts saw England produce a 35-20 half-time lead.
Those who had called the game closer were later exonerated at the start of the second half. Wandering elbows and referee whistles defined a third term where the Malawi Queens surged. As they grew in opportunity, they became increasingly disruptive in their quest to try to recoup the score. The eight interceptions, three deflections and three unforced errors they pulled off England meant they held the hosts to a quarter-final draw at the end of the 15th.
Showing no signs of panic, Thirlby opted to keep making changes, seizing the opportunity to use all of his players with an eye on the challenges that lie ahead for his team. Those who arrived, and in some cases returned to court, in the last 15 of the match, more than reasserted England’s authority.
Goalkeeper Layla Guscoth helped the Roses win the final quarter 18-8. The skilled doctor finished with five wins, two interceptions and four deflections in 45 minutes of court time, fueling the rhetoric that the 30-year-old is the best in the world at the position.
“It was a good test,” Thirlby said. “It was definitely what we needed; practice being asked questions along the way in order to prepare for deeper games in the tournament.
“This third quarter isn’t good enough. We recognized what they were doing well against us, but we were too slow to choose the best course of action to stop them in their tracks. To a certain measure we can expect that but we don’t accept that so we’ll be looking to try and rectify some of those issues for next week but the first half overall we should be pretty happy .
Center Laura Malcolm, who finished with 15 starts, echoed her coach’s approval with the result: “We’re really happy with it. It was definitely a lift yesterday. There’s still a lot of work to do, so we’re still trying to get where we want to be, but as long as we keep improving, we’ll get where we want to be.
The Roses of England will return to court on Monday to face Northern Ireland. After the host nation’s 79-20 loss to New Zealand, the Roses can expect an easier run. Australia, who want to avenge their home loss four years ago, are also two from two after beating Barbados 95-19 and beating Scotland 83-80.