Thistles bloom to dominate opening test with Barbados

IT was a performance that ex-Diamonds coach and commentator Lisa Alexander deemed worthy of a “top five” nation. Scotland fans were certainly able to head home happy after their Thistles dominated Barbados by 42 goals in the first of two tests between the nations. The eighth ranked nation under coach Tamsin Greenway never looked like losing, dominating the 13th ranked Bajan Gems from the first centre pass to run out 74-32 winners.

SCOTLAND 17 | 24 | 19 | 14 (74)
BARBADOS 5 | 9 | 8 | 10 (32)

There was so much to like about the Thistles’ performance in what was as much about the younger generation coming through as it was about the reliable figures in the team. Claire Maxwell returned for her first international match since having a baby, and lost none of her tenacity and defensive accountability. She started in wing defence to allow debutants Hannah Leighton and Iona Christian to control the attacking midcourt and the trio took apart Barbados piece by piece.

Whilst teen shooter Emma Barrie was a little shaky with her shooting at first, she grew in confidence as the match went on, and paired well with Niamh McCall in the Scottish circle. Despite Barbados leader Latonia Blackman playing her 150th international match – a remarkable achievement – she could do little at goal defence to stem the early bleeding. Scotland piled on 17 goals to five in the opening quarter and showed the difference in styles, but also the benefits of having played over the last 18 months.

Unlike Barbados, Scotland is able to develop connections across the court due to the high volume of players running around for the Strathclyde Sirens in the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL). Eleven of the 12 Thistles in the squad have been able to get some VNSL runs into their legs – bar Maxwell having sat out the 2021 season – with nine at the Sirens.

The last time these sides played it was Scotland getting away with an 11-goal win, but by half-time in this contest, the margin had ballooned out to 27 goals. Shonica Wharton was a shining light for the Bajan Gems and arguably the only Barbados player who would have got the chocolates over their direct opponent. Across the court, Maxwell and Emily Nicholl were applying pressure, and it flowed throughout the Scottish lineup, as the Thistles punished the Carribean nation for turnovers.

Towards the end of the second term, it was clear Barbados was getting frustrated with the lack of opportunities. Having earned a rare turnover close to the post in the defensive goal circle, the Bajan Gems defenders were clearly dismayed at a teammate accidentally stepping into the circle to hand the ball straight to McCall who scored the goal. In the dying moments of the half, Barrie was seen all alone in the goal circle, and the towering goal shooter looked near-unstoppable with her confidence up.

There was a stark contrast of discipline and consistency between the sides, and it showed in the 41-17 half-time score. Both sides made changes at half-time, with Sabreena Smith coming in at centre for the Bajan Jems as they revered to their starting seven. Christian moved into the centre bib for the Thistles, with Nicola McCleery slotting into wing attack, Bethan Goodwin replacing Barrie at goal shooter, and Caitlin Pringle in to quell Wharton at goal keeper on debut. Wharton was soon off though, replaced by Faye Agard in the shooter spot.

Regardless of the changes, it was much the same, with Scotland extending the lead out to 38 goals by the final break, with Blackman and Agard steady up either end, but the Scottish team able to adapt to the new formation. McCall had a highlight smart play when throwing in from the baseline, throwing it into the post to receive and shoot before her opponent had realised what she had done.

The changes kept coming for Scotland in the final term as Greenway was determined to get every player court time. Sarah Macphail replaced Nicholl at goal defence, Leighton came on for her third quarter back at centre with Christian off, and Kalea Stagg handed a Scottish debut. To Barbados’ credit, the Bajan Gems fought back early to actually score nine goals to six at one stage and look far stronger than they had at any stage. Stagg was not as consistent putting the ball to post as McCall had been, but her energy across the court was contagious.

Scotland lifted its intensity in the final five minutes to dominate with eight of the last nine goals, running out 74-32 winners in the end. Leighton’s court vision and passing was superb, and both her and Christian were outstanding on debut, with Maxwell and McCall at respective ends also terrific, and Nicholl ever reliable for the Thistles. Barbados has plenty to work on, and whilst the Thistles did win by such as large margin, Scotland too has areas to build upon for the second test just 24 hours later.

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