Cardwell makes a difference as England beat Jamaica in first netball Test

The challenge of international netball is having the combinations to counter whatever the rest of the world has to throw at you. England’s Roses opened their three-Test series against Jamaica with a 55-45 victory after a storming comeback.

Jess Thirlby’s side trailed 26-25 before the introduction of Eleanor Cardwell tipped the game in their favour after an uncharacteristically slow start.

The urgency to produce something for fans who had not seen their side since January 2020 was painted across the faces of the Roses but at every step, pivot and turn there had been a link missing in a usually reliable lineup.

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England’s attacking backbone featuring the famed ‘H-cubed’ combination of Jo Harten, Helen Housby and Natalie Haythornthwaite – members of the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold-winning squad – lacked their usual fluidity against Jamaica’s lethal defensive combination of Super Netball’s Kadie Ann-Dehaney, Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson.

At the other end the Roses’ defence began their 60-minute-long gruelling task of blunting Jamaica’s attack fronted by their greatest weapon, the 1.96m tall Jhaniele Fowler. Solving a problem like Fowler is not achieved by glory intercepts but through work done off the ball, at phase zero. It is unglamorous but twice the Roses were rewarded as long feeds aimed at Fowler went over the backline.

After they started the second quarter trailing by a point, it took only a few minutes before Thirlby made the call for change. On for the uncertain Housby came Cardwell, a homegrown player who shone in England’s most recent series win in New Zealand. The Manchester Thunder player’s physical presence and ability to draw the defence gave the Sunshine Girls something new to chew, but with such a late injection she did little to affect the scoreboard immediately, allowing Jamaica to hold the lead at the break.

Helen Housby watches from the bench after being replaced by Eleanor Cardwell in the second quarter.
Helen Housby watches from the bench after being replaced by Eleanor Cardwell in the second quarter. Photograph: Chloe Knott/Getty Images for England Netball

What a coach says to players at half-time will always be one of the sport’s great mysteries. “It took us too long to adapt,” Thirlby said afterwards.

But the Roses who took to court were a class apart from those that started. Sterling’s waning influence over Cardwell along with Eboni Usoro-Brown’s switch to goalkeeper helped the Roses to rid themselves of their earlier rustiness.

With England’s cap centurion Usoro-Brown anchoring the defensive end, Layla Guscoth and Beth Cobden were given freedom to roam, and the intercepts soon flooded down, duly swinging momentum in the hosts’ favour. A run of goals flipped the score, putting England firmly in the driving seat at 41-35 heading into the final quarter.

With the wind well and truly in their sails, England soared. Like a master puppeteer, Usoro-Brown continued to pull the strings of the Guscoth-Cobden axis, who disrupted any attempts by the Jamaicans to mount a comeback. The hooter sounded, signalling that England had survived a first Test.

Game two will see the teams relocate to Nottingham, and on the agenda for Thirlby will be starting stronger: “We’re way off what I know we’re capable of,” she said. “But to be in the position where you know you haven’t reached anywhere near the potential of this group and still beat a team like Jamaica by 10, it’s a great place to be.”


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