You would think the one thing you cannot do without as a goal shooter is the feeling in your fingers. Not if you are Rachel Dunn, apparently. In the second quarter of England’s game against Trinidad and Tobago, their starting goal shooter still managed to get the ball in the net even though a knock to her elbow had left her with a mostly numb hand.
The sight of Dunn holding a wrist and shaking her fingers provided the only truly nervous moment as England returned from their day off to rack up a 72-46 win against Trinidad and Tobago after their day off to gold-plating their place in Saturday’s semi-finals – even if it was not their most sparkling performance.
“I knew we were going to come out a little bit flat today,” said the manager, Tracey Neville. “Some players got to play in positions they didn’t expect but I said before the tournament it’s about contributing in every position. I’m glad we came out with 70-odd goals and although the performance wasn’t as clinical as we wanted I didn’t expect that today.”
Helen Housby was rested from the starting line-up, but came on for Dunn six minutes into the second quarter, just as Trinidad and Tobago’s attack had begun to give England some trouble.
Finishing the first quarter 20-12 down, the Calypso Girls scored five unanswered goals at the start of the second, then, as Housby took the unusual position of goal attack to Jo Harten’s goal shooter, reduced England’s lead to just three. England’s shooting pair switched bibs to resume their usual combination and in the remaining period before half-time scored 15 goals to two.
Neville made multiple changes as England extended their lead by 10 goals in the second half, and Dunn returned with fully functioning fingers. “It may not have looked pretty at times but it’s a good result,” said Dunn. “We’re going into the business end [of the tournament] now and that’s what we want, hard games to be able to respond to and push on.”
With the semi-finalists already but decided, a full four days before they meet each other, the World Cup has entered a peculiar limbo period. Dead rubbers decide final placings for the unsuccessful teams, and England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa use their games as chalkboard experiments while trying not to pick up injuries or lose momentum.
But even as the results have lost meaning, the atmosphere in the arena is ratcheting up. Games begin with a dramatic light show and the teams now disappear at the end of their 15-minute warm-up – running out of one exit in order to reappear in the tunnel where they can be announced one at a time. The double-court set-up that divided the arena into two halves is gone and, with Escher-like impossibility, the single court that now runs lengthways across the floor now looks almost twice the size.
Some deadly shooting gave Scotland a strong start against Jamaica, even if an upset was never on the cards. When they finished the first 15 minutes a goal up, it was the first time in history they had won a quarter against the world’s No 2 ranked team.
Lynsey Gallagher didn’t miss a goal all game and worked the Jamaican defenders, including the brilliant Shamera Sterling, hard. Emma Barrie continued her excellent start to international netball, scoring 19 from 22.
But with the injection of Adean Thomas at centre, Jamaica upped the pace, and the return of Romelda Aiken alongside Jhaniele Fowler-Reid – both women at least half a head taller than their Scottish defenders – proved irresistible, as they scored 37 goals in the middle quarters.
“We were hoping we might be able to surprise them a bit,” said the Scotland coach Gail Perata after Jamaica’s 67-36 win. “We couldn’t keep pace with them – the Jamaican team we know, the flair, the speed that they have, came out in the second and third quarter.” There was cause to be pleased with Scotland’s strong finish, and the final scoreline of 67-36 was their smallest-ever margin of defeat against Jamaica.