Test Series against South Africa
The England Under 21 team return from South Africa today after securing a 2-1 victory over their hosts in a fiercely competitive trio of matches. We asked team captain Natalie Haythornthwaite to keep us updated with all of the action and the Yorkshire Jets youngster has provided us with an excellent insight into the Series against the emerging Proteas.
“The first match in the Series saw England get off to a great start by winning the opening game by 11 goals. Our day started with a morning training session focusing on attacking and defensive principles; the girls knew South Africa were going to be a strong side so we had to ensure the time we had in morning training slots was used effectively. With our training session complete and a good preparation meal in us we headed to the Good Hope centre for our first match.
The girls were very excited for the match; all were hoping for a ‘quality’ performance to follow on from the Gold we won at World University Championships. With a strong squad warm up we were all pumped up and ready to go. The first match proved to be a competitive, hard fought encounter, going goal-for-goal throughout the 60 minutes. A strong defensive unit worked hard to get turnovers allowing the shooters to finish off at the other end. It was a tough challenge for the squad but the girls dug deep and came out with the win, a very happy and successful moment for the team to see us into the next match… which just happened to be on the following day.
Day two arrived with another morning training session, today’s principles were focusing on sidelines and backlines as well as through court set-ups. The atmosphere in camp didn’t seem as enthusiastic during training, but we managed to snap out of it in time for the game. This is something that happens to a lot of elite sporting teams – a mental toughness challenge we all faced as a squad. With a good lunch inside us we headed off to the Good Hope Centre once again for our second match against a South African side who were determined to prove they were a team to be reckoned with.
This time around the game was a completely different story; the African side started strong and had obviously done their ‘homework’ after their defeat the previous day. Their patient play and pure determination was evident throughout the match, although our girls never gave up and kept our goal in mind: quality of passing and being aware of one another. The hosts came out with a 56-31 win. This meant the Series was level and our girls had faced their first loss of the tour.
That evening we felt disappointed with the performance as we knew we were better than a 25 goal deficit. It seemed to be the real test of the whole tour, our first loss combined with a disappointing performance. We had one game left and it was literally ‘now or never’ for the team to come together, get back up and put out a winning performance in the third match.
Discussions that night as to how we were going to deal with the loss and prepare for the next day were crucial. On the final day of the Series, we went back to the training venue to put right our wrongs, focusing on a FULL COURT DEFENCE in order to increase turnover ball, this proved to be a massive and crucial moment for the team if we were going to seal the win. Before the game our coach Colette Thomson summed up the Series with this quote; ‘concentration and mental toughness are margins of victory’. We all knew we had a job to do and we needed to prove ourselves worthy winners.
The final game will always be one to remember, with a full court defence, control, patience and determination. In another reversal the England girls managed to win comfortably, by eleven goals: 55-44. Throughout the game there were plenty of turnovers in every third. The attacking end saw some fluent passages of play and real craft work allowing some impressive feeds to the shooters by both the defensive end and centre court.
The whistle went resulting in England winning the Series but it wasn’t only a win on the court, it was a massive learning curve for the U21 girls as we realised no matter how low or tired or beaten you feel, it’s what you do the next day that turns a disappointing performance into a winning squad effort both on and off the court.