The 10,000-strong crowd hollered and cheered on the two teams, and England spent much of the game in the lead. Every point was greeted with whoops and cheers from the fans; many were young girls with faces painted in St George’s crosses, fancy dress or matching outfits on. (Which made a really refreshing change from the usual crowd at sports matches!)
Netball is a really quick game to watch; both teams showed incredible changes of pace and skill throughout the court. It was amazing to see the physical body barging and (near!) fighting that goes on between players: netball at this level really is a contact sport!
At half time (or after two quarters, as Netball goes), England were leading 23-17. Strong in defence, their shooters were also playing really well, and racking up the points. In the 3rd quarter, England started to make little mistakes, but still maintained the lead at 35-29.
A change of goal keeper for Australia in the last quarter sadly changed the tone of the match. Laura Geitz’s skills at keeping the England shooters away from the ball really proved pivotal to the end result. Suddenly, the scores were level at 39-39. With five minutes left, the Australian fans in the crowd (so shy before!) started to make themselves heard. Australia took the lead, and then pulled away as England continued to make tiny, significant mistakes. The final score was a nail-biting 43-45.
Speaking afterwards, Sue Hawkins, England’s Head Coach said it was a missed opportunity. “When we were nine goals up, we should have built from that margin,” she said. “Our error count went up and especially when it got tight in that last five minutes. So when the pressure goes on we need to practice like that.”
Karen Atkinson, England’s co-captain was gutted. “[It was] incredibly disappointing because I think this is the first time that the whole squad have really believed that we can take Australia.â€
I asked her what it felt to play at The O2, one of London’s Olympic venues. “The crowd was awesome. But it was really disappointing not to be able to carry that through.”
Despite the team’s obvious disappointment, I really enjoyed watching the match at The O2. It’s a great venue for watching sport; hopefully lots of the school kids there agreed and will continue to do so for many years to come!
Read our interview with Sonia Mkoloma, England’s other co-captain