Ahead of the Vitality Nations Cup which began last weekend, the Wales senior squad were very excited to have been invited to a training match against current World Champions, New Zealand in Nottingham. This training match took place ahead of the Silver Ferns’ opening game victory against England and saw a young Wales side travel to the East Midlands for five fifteen-minute periods against some of the world’s best netballers.
Wales coaches Sarah Hale and Jenna Adamson selected a squad of fifteen players to take face the Ferns with the following players selected: Nia Jones (Capt), Lydia Hitchings, Georgia Rowe, Eleanor Roberts, Chloe James, Shona O’Dwyer, Bethan Dyke, Lucy Howells, Clare Jones, Leila Thomas, Celyn Emmanuel, Millie Carter, Carys Allen, Morganne Dunn and Bethan Johnson.
Ahead of the training match, captain Nia Jones shared her thoughts about the opportunity that Wales were presented with. She said: “Any opportunity to play the Silver Ferns is extremely special and the fact that they’ve just been crowned World Champions makes it even more so.
“It is so exciting for this new young group that we’ve got [and] it gives us a great opportunity to run some new bodies out and what better team to test yourself against than the current World Champions. It’s going to be really tough but it’s behind closed doors so we can try plenty of stuff.
“It has been no secret that we’ve been working on our own philosophy of playing so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes against the traditional zonal style of New Zealand. It’s a compliment to us that they are willing to play a Welsh side ahead of the Nations Cup so they’ll be expecting a tough match and I hope we can give them one.
“Our culture has been good and [the new players] have been mucking in and taking on board the values that we’ve carried through from last year. We’ve had a few training matches against Knights Men and players have proven that if they are good enough then they are old enough. The winning goal last week was scored by Morganne Dunn who has never been capped for the senior side. It’s a responsibility for us older players to nurture them through and I can’t believe that I’m stood here now as one of the older ones!”
Jones faith in her teammates was well founded as Wales began the game with an excellent first quarter against the Silver Ferns. Talismanic wing attack, Bethan Dyke was in fine form and positioned herself excellently around circle edge to receive some powerful and compact Welsh passes. The defensive partnership of Leila Thomas and Lucy Howells grew in confidence throughout the first period, making several vital interventions to restrict New Zealand’s scoring chances.
The starting seven remained unchanged in the second period, but New Zealand ramped up the intensity. Wales were unable to stick to their game plan and some long balls wound up in the hands of the Kiwis. As a result, the Ferns posted a big score in the period and so the Welsh bench decided to change things up.
Morganne Dunn and Celyn Emmanuel came on for a first appearance against test nation opposition and were full of confidence as they slotted in seamlessly to the team. Wales were careful to play patiently, and it was great to see a nice Welsh interception being well-worked up to goal. When Georgia Rowe converted the opportunity, the whole squad cheered and you could sense what it meant to the team to have such intelligent play being rewarded with a score.
The fourth quarter once again saw changes as Eleanor Roberts came on for Rowe with Dunn switching up to goal shooter. Dunn maintained her composure and continued to impress at goal and was joined in defence by fellow former U21 player Carys Allen and Wales U17 graduate Millie Carter. The youngsters really stepped up to the challenge in front of them as Wales played with pace and precision, leading at points in the period, to record their best score of the match.
There were some tired legs in the final 15-minute period, but this did not prevent some fantastic netball being played as the game came to a close. Carter notably took two interceptions in the period, much to the joy of her teammates. Lydia Hitchings and Chloe James came on in the shooting circle with Clare Jones providing stability and leadership at centre. Wales had cycled through a number of combinations by this point and it was pleasing to see these changes had little impact on Wales’ adherence to the game plan and ‘the Welsh Way’ of netball.
By the full-time whistle, you could see that both Wales and the Silver Ferns had had a proper workout and both sides demonstrated great sportsmanship in the post-match huddle.
Interim head coach Sara Hale was pleased with the squad’s efforts as she reflected on the match. She said: “We would play New Zealand every week if we could. The way you get better is by playing the best in the world and you play them as frequently as possible.
“I think that the first quarter was good, we played some good, flat, clean ball in attack. We knew that we couldn’t lift the ball because of the type of defenders we were playing against and we knew we had to work the ball to circle edge and take opportunities at goal and I think we did that really well in the first quarter. I was impressed that we stepped up to them and made it look effortless at times and I was pleased that we had the confidence to do that and it was exactly what I wanted to see.
“I wanted to use these games as a platform to allow [new] players to perform as you cannot use the same seven for four years and expect to be successful. I was really pleased with the young players who came on today as well as some of our older players who haven’t had as many opportunities so credit to them. Millie [Carter] came on – she’s 17 and she took three intercepts off the Silver Ferns in her first ever opportunity to play for Wales so if that’s how she starts I look forward to seeing her progress. I think that Celyn [Emmanuel] did particularly well coming on having her first opportunity here. Clare [Jones] at centre did a good job and is establishing herself in that position. Morganne [Dunn] coming on and shooting from the goal attack position gives us options and having these options is a really exciting part of this team.”
Captain Nia Jones was full of admiration for her team’s performance. She said: “The best we could do to respect the invitation in to [the Silver Ferns’] training session is by not giving them an inch and they clearly wanted to play Wales for a reason and that is because we don’t know when we are beaten.
“There were some nice comments from the Ferns at the end saying how the felt that they had really been in a game today and that reflected how we brought the game to them. They are a small nation like us so we really respect what they have achieved in world netball and they are players that we can aspire to be like.
“We’ve got lots to work on but there were patches today that were amazing for us with a couple of close quarters. We’ve shown that we’ve got the fitness there and although we made the wrong decisions at times that improvement will come. There were some outstanding performances, I thought Celyn in midcourt worked tirelessly and Millie in the back turning over ball against the Ferns should give her loads of confidence and put pressure on us older defenders that there is loads of talent coming through.”
Welsh Netball would like to thank New Zealand for the invitation to play against the Silver Ferns as part of their Vitality Nations Cup preparation. We would also like to congratulate them on their opening victory against England and wish them the best for the rest of the competition.