In this week’s column, Tamsin Greenway takes a closer look at Team Bath Netball’s encounter with Wasps Netball, discusses players’ versatility and turns the spotlight on two teams looking to bounce back after a confidence hit – Saracens Mavericks and London Pulse…
Let’s start with the game of the weekend: Wasps Netball versus Team Bath Netball. Bath flew out of the blocks and were leading by ten goals at half-time, but Wasps went on to win the second half.
What I found interesting was that even though the match appeared to be quite comfortable for Bath, and at times one sided, the final stats show a different story.
With only one goal separating their attempts and the margin of turnovers and unforced errors being tiny, the numbers show that it was a lot closer than it seemed. That’s not taking anything away from Bath, though, because they did punish Wasps’ mistakes and make them pay for a slow start.
After the match, there was quite a lot of talk on social media about Bath’s dominance and the squad they have this season – at any one time, they can field five current internationals on court. The conversation centred around how other teams can compete? Is it fair and what’s best for netball in England?
How do we get more teams to that level… should the VNSL have the same number of teams? More teams? Less teams? Should there be promotion and relegation to make it count more? Xxx food for thought…
— Natalie Peperell (@natnetballcoach) February 22, 2021
Now, although I’m still a firm believer that the 2021 title is Bath’s to lose, because of the quality of the players that they have, I do think that they are beatable.
Over the past few years, when it comes to the top four and the semi-finals, it’s never just a given that the teams you expect to get through to the final, or eventually win, will.
When you have such a strong squad and are dominant throughout the season, one of the dangers is that you come unstuck towards the end, because you haven’t experienced the pressure others have. Also, by that point, your rivals have had the opportunity to work you out.
So, while Bath are looking like they’re a step ahead at the moment, there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
When you lose, it’s easy to analyse your game and decide what needs to change, but one of the most important things is to do this when you win, too. You need to know why you have won, and that isn’t always obvious.
If Bath want to continue on the trajectory they’re on, they’ll need to do this and keep on evolving as the rounds go by.
One question is how much better can their group get? Are they at their peak level already? They’re also going to have to manage being the team that everyone else has their eyes on, the team that everyone raises their game to play, sometimes it’s so much easier being the underdog.
This weekend, Bath have got a weekend off and when they return they’ll face Manchester Thunder, which will be a great test for them. I don’t think Thunder have really been pushed sufficiently yet either, so it will be an amazing contest.
Overall, I just don’t think that it’s as clear-cut as some are making out and there’s a lot more to take from that Wasps-Bath game that perhaps first met the eye.
Two teams that will be pleased to return to court as quickly as possible are London Pulse and Saracens Mavericks after their difficulties in round three.
Pulse are meeting Sirens, which will be a real crunch game because Sirens are coming into it with confidence, and Mavericks have got Celtic Dragons, who have shown improvement since the opening weekend.
Both Sam Bird and Kat Ratnapala took slightly different approaches when they spoke about their teams’ round three losses. Sam acknowledged that their defeat to Thunder showed where they are at in terms of their development, while Kat did not hold back about her team and their performance levels.
🗣 “I’ve asked them to have a long, hard look at themselves, as well as us. All credit to Loughborough; they really brought it tonight, but we weren’t good enough.”
📋 FT: Lightning 60-35 Mavericks
— Sky Sports Netball (@SkyNetball) February 21, 2021
Both should be going into this weekend thinking that they’re going to get victories, but a knock of confidence like the one they experienced last weekend will have had an impact.
The positives for both are that their defensive ends are winning ball, but their attack ends just aren’t firing yet and it’s for very different reasons.
When you bring in imports like Pulse have with Sigi Burger, Lefebre Rademan and Adean Thomas, it can be difficult to bring them all together. As individuals, they’re incredible but finding that common thread can be a real challenge. It’s certainly more challenging than having a set of players who all understand a certain structure or physically play a certain way.
I’m intrigued to see what Sam Bird decides to do over the next few weeks. So far, we’ve seen her trying different combinations throughout C, WA and GS, but now, will she focus in on one combination and run with it?
For Mavs, they ended up making ten changes during their match against Loughborough to try and find some answers.
I think that their biggest disappointment was their senior players are perhaps not making the impact that they need to at the moment. I know that they’ve got players coming back, but at the same time, they should have been able to stick to task with their rotating circle and make it happen.
Britney Clarke is coming on, and she’s making a real difference, but they’re being forced into that change early. If she’s going to start, then what does that look like for the rest of the team? I’ll be interested to see what they’ve done in training this week and what they decide to put out on court this weekend.
Before the season started, both Mavs and Pulse would have looked at these fixtures and thought that they should pick up wins, but it’s going to be about how both have dealt with their knock in confidence and how they respond under the pressure of a match situation.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the versatility of players in our Vitality Netball Superleague teams at the moment.
What I’ve noticed this season is how fluid it’s been and how players have transitioned seamlessly across a range of positions. Take Rhinos, they looked as if they didn’t have a specialist GK, they signed Tuaine Keenan very late, and then she got injured.
Keenan’s injury meant that Paige Kindred was pushed into GK and she’s not been fazed in the slightest. At this level, Paige has been known as WD, GD and I’ve even seen her play at C, as well. At 1.75m, she’s not got the traditional height of a GK and yet she’s doing an exceptional job.
Dan Ryan has created a structure where someone like Paige can play GK and thrive. Whether they get found out against the likes of Lightning, Wasps or Bath, we’ll have to wait and see, but she’s started with confidence in a position that wouldn’t be her first choice.
At Sirens, we saw Bethan Goodwin go out to GA and she thrived. Bethan has played a little bit at GA but she’s predominantly a GS. What was impressive is that tactically Sirens were able to put a plan around her, so that she was comfortable, and she even got player of the match.
7⃣ This is how @SirensNetball started but after two minutes, Lynsey Gallagher had to leave court injured.
🔁 Bethan Goodwin moved out to GA and Emma Barrie into GS.
🌍 UK and Ireland https://t.co/LCZjr5cktt
— Sky Sports Netball (@SkyNetball) February 21, 2021
Ella Powell-Davies was another who made an impact. She’s played out at GD, WD and C, but she came on at GK for Wasps and was influential in securing their second-half ball.
Throw Caroline O’Hanlon at WA for Thunder and Christina Shaw at WD for Dragons, and you’ve got a whole mix of players stepping out across a range of positions. That’s before the more traditional changes, like Yaz Parsons shifting to WA or Eleanor Cardwell sliding into GA.
Overall, it’s just been really interesting to see how coaches are using their squads creatively. They seem to be more open than ever to doing something new, including introducing younger players into tight and pressured situations.
I think coaches are being braver this year and players are seemingly being more open to it, because they’re just happy to be back on court. The question now, is whether or not this will carry on?
Are we going to continue with this fluid movement, or will starting sevens, positions and changes become more predictable? As a fan of the starting seven and coaching through situations, I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.
Sky Sports is your home of netball. The Vitality Netball Superleague continues on Sunday with Round Four and four back-to-back matches available to watch on the Sky Sports YouTube channel from 12pm.