Australia’s netball world champions have set their sights on a series sweep of England after weathering a fourth-quarter fightback to take the opening Test.
Australia triumphed 58-52 in Liverpool in front of a raucous crowd on Wednesday, powering to victory on the back of stellar shooting displays from Caitlin Bassett (20/21) and Caitlin Thwaites (21/25) and a standout performance by goalkeeper Sharni Layton.
Player of the match Layton was a constant menace in defence, finishing with six interceptions and five deflections, and said the team was determined to go undefeated in the best-of-three series which continues with game two in London on Friday (Saturday 0630 AEDT).
“We didn’t come over here just for a fairy match. We definitely want to wrap it up. We don’t want to drop a game,” she said.
“I’m sure they’re going to come out even stronger and hungrier.
“They’re sold out games in London and (the crowd) is going to get right behind them as well.
“I’m expecting a tougher game. We’re really going to have to look at what we did tonight.
“We definitely didn’t have a perfect performance and if we want to stay on top there’s a lot of work we need to do because they’re an extremely strong side.”
Despite showing some cobwebs in their first match of 2016, Australia had the better of the first half, winning each quarter by two goals to open up a 30-26 lead at the major break.
Coach Lisa Alexander tested out several new combinations and made sweeping changes at halftime as the new era of Australian netball begins to take shape following the triple retirements of Kim Green, Rebecca Bulley and Julie Corletto after the World Cup.
England’s swarming defence put pressure on the Diamonds’ midcourt, which produced several uncharacteristic turnovers as combinations took time to gel.
However, the outstanding work of Layton and laser shooting from Thwaites ensured Australia remained on top at halftime.
The introduction of star shooter Bassett for the second half, paired with Natalie Medhurst who had started in the unfamiliar position of wing attack, swung the match further in Australia’s favour.
The pair combined for 15 goals as the tourists stretched their lead to seven at the final change.
Liz Watson, the 21-year-old Melbourne Vixens centre, got her first taste of international netball when introduced for the final quarter, as Alexander continued to tinker with her lineups.
“I think it’s great that Lisa put new combos out there,” Layton said.
“We do have to learn to gel together looking forward over the next four years.
“Those combinations will continue to gel like those old ones have.
“It is nice to have the confidence (of the old combinations) but I’ve got confidence in all the girls with whatever we put out.”