Geva Mentor stars as England begin Netball title defence at Commonwealth Games

·3 min read
Geva Mentor stars as England begin Netball title defence at Commonwealth Games

By James Toney in Birmingham

Bournemouth's Geva Mentor helped get England's defence of their women's netball title off to flying start at the Commonwealth Games.

Four years after their last gasp win over red-hot favourites Australia on the Gold Coast, the Roses were back in action, brushing aside Trinidad and Tobago 74-22 in their opening group match at the National Exhibition Centre.

Mentor shared defensive duties with Eboni Usoro-Brown while Eleanor Cardwell top scored with 30 goals, supported by Gold Coast heroes Jo Harten and Helen Housby.

"I think we have really set the tone now and we can build on it, plan our recovery and go again," said Mentor,

"It was a pretty quick turn around after the opening ceremony. It was a phenomenal experience - Birmingham really stole the show and it was great to be a part of. When I got out there my heart was beating out of my chest, but I knew my team was behind me.

"I was really, really nervous, and someone told me there was one billion people watching worldwide. If they had told me that before, I think I would have melted on stage."

Tracey Neville coached England to glory in Australia but was succeeded by Jess Thirlby in 2019. They arrive at their home Games ranked third in the world behind the Silver Ferns of New Zealand and the Australian Diamonds.

And Thirlby wants them to seize their chance, three years after winning bronze at the World Cup in Liverpool.

"For us to be afforded the chance to have another big tournament on home soil so soon, probably will never happen again in our lifetimes," she said.

"It's really important to embrace it. That's easy to say but I really trust in this group, that they will use that to build energy rather than for it to defeat them."

Thirlby knows this is a long tournament with games coming thick and fast, with Saturday's opponent Malawi, less than 24 hours after this game.

She utilised all her 12-strong squad against Trinidad and Tobago and insists it'll a key tactic of the days ahead.

"I think it's really important," she added.

"You can't pre-plan too much, but I think we’d be missing a trick if we didn't take the opportunities to give players chances.

We did it with meaning – we expect people to make a difference to our performance. It’ll be a great settler for the group – there are a lot of smiley faces.

"We inserted some people and made some changes during the game, which we afforded ourselves the chance to do. Trinidad and Tobago are tricky to play against – they’re great at disrupting our flow, which we struggled with in patches.

"But in the main, what I saw was great impact off the bench and us problem-solving with real purpose."

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