VNSL 2021: Round 7 preview – Lightning earns week off as ladder heats up

THE Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) competition continues to heat up, with plenty at stake as we head into Round 7. One of the flag favourites in Loughborough Lightning has been afforded the break this round, while Strathclyde Sirens and Team Bath are the only teams that will play two matches this weekend with back-to-back Sunday and Monday games.

Sunday, March 21

Manchester Thunder v. Celtic Dragons

Manchester Thunder will look to get back on the winners list after a shocking fall from grace across Round 5/6 last week. While the Thunder’s recent form is not ideal, they come up against the winless Celtic Dragons, who have struggled to put goals on the board, let alone points on the ladder. Realistically, while the Dragons have shown some good moments, they do not match up under the microscope and will struggle against the calibre of this Manchester outfit – especially against Thunder on a mission following some poor and uncharacteristic results.

Expect a huge effort from the Thunder backline, with the combination of Kerry AlmondRebekah Airey and Emma Dovey hard to stop when they get going, while stars across the court uphold intensity and could well blow the Dragons out of the water. Look to Laura Malcolm to run the ball down, as can Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter, while out the front Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell continuously fire on all cylinders. Looking at the Dragons, they will really need Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson to find the ball and promote that movement out the front to evade Thunder’s long arms. If the defence can clean up their penalty count a fraction it will go a long way, with Annika Lee-JonesLucy Howells and Abigail Tyrell able to have an impact but struggling to do so when out of play.

Saracens Mavericks v. London Pulse

Expect a tight tussle between Saracens Mavericks and London Pulse, with both sides looking to push hard in this contest. Whilst Pulse has seemed a shade of its 2020 self, the Mavericks are yet to really hit their straps and will need to exploit the newer combinations in the Pulse side to get over the line here. Ideally, Mavericks will look to build off their Round 5/6 draw and go one better here, but Pulse finally got its maiden 2021 win on the board last round so will want to taste that winning glory once more and really push the Mavs.

Expect a huge battle between Raz Quashie and Sigi Burger at the post, with Mavericks superstar Quashie known for her hunt on the ball and feeder whilst Burger is your typical holding short-range goal shooter. Both able to switch things up and test their opposition, Burger will need her goal attack to step up and command ball, with Kira Rothwell more than capable of doing so and remaining accurate to post. That being said, the Mavericks have more depth across the court and will have some tried and true connections through the centre and frontline, with Sasha and Kadeen Corbin able to spark plenty of intensity, while Gabby Marshall and Georgia Lees continue to find Ine-Mari Venter at the post. Halimat AdioLindsay Keable and Funmi Fadoju will have their work cut out for them, but are more than capable of wreaking havoc of their own.

Surrey Storm v. Team Bath

Team Bath have a chance to take top spot when this round is done and dusted, so expect the blue and gold side to come out full throttle against the Surrey Storm on Saturday afternoon. Whilst this is Bath’s first of two matches for the round, the side has proven time and time again that it can hold up extremely well in back-to-back matches, and the side’s undefeated record for the season speaks for itself. That being said, Storm is a side that has showcased an ability to remain in the game, so if they can match Bath’s intensity they could have a real chance of challenging the side.

With ultimately the most potent backline across the competition, Bath’s combinations across the court will be hard to stop. Expect livewires Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison to hold down the midcourt, while the versatile back unit of Layla Guscoth, Tash Pavelin, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman will look to limit any circle access for the likes of Karyn Bailey, Frankie Wells and Sophie Kelly. The Surrey backline will be in trouble if they cannot contain Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger, and to make matters worse for the side, Betsy Creak has also proved capable of stepping on and slotting in seamlessly to the frontline. Expect Leah Middleton to continue her solid form alongside Felisitus Kwangwa while Yas Parsons and Mikki Austin will look to maintain intensity through the midcourt.

Strathclyde Sirens v. Wasps Netball

When it comes to intriguing clashes, this is one that jumps out for the round with Strathclyde Sirens ultimately showcasing its best ever form this season and the Wasps not quite hitting the highs it has over the past few seasons. Sitting third (Wasps) and fifth (Sirens), with just Sirens’ Round 5/6 draw between them, anything could come from this matchup especially if the Sirens can retain the same pressure they have applied over the past few rounds.

Sirens will once again miss the services of Lynsey Gallagher following injury but will look to developing duo Emma Barrie and Bethan Goodwin at the post, with the young guns able to ply their trade effectively out the front. Factor in Beth Dix‘s excellent form as well as the continued efforts through the centre from Nicola McCleery, Gia Abernethy and Taylor Cullen, and the Sirens could really challenge the Wasps here. Expect a tight matchup between Towera Vinkhumbo and Rachel Dunn at the post, while Katie Harris has continued to step up this season, as have Iona Christian and Sophia Candappa out the front. Defensively, Fran Williams and Josie Huckle just do not stop, so will look to run down the young Sirens attack.

Tip: Thunder by 27, Mavericks by 2, Bath by 16, Wasps by 7


MONDAY, March 22

Team Bath v. Strathclyde Sirens

The two sides playing their respective second encounters for the weekend, this matchup will be a real test and could have a huge impact on the ladder given the amount of reshuffling that has happened already this season. Realistically, Team Bath has the winning attitude and experience to get over the line here, but be prepared for a tough matchup with the Sirens looking to step up to the task at hand and really challenge Bath.

It is a quick turnaround but that should not stop either team from well and truly going for it. For the Sirens, it will be up to Vinkhumbo to stop Borger in her tracks at the post, while Abernethy will be tasked with limiting Guthrie’s huge impact across the court. Expect the defensive pressure to be the real tell in this one, with Bath’s defensive effort likely to be off the walls despite fatigue setting in following their Sunday matchup. Expect a wealth of changes from the Sirens as they aim to further wear out Bath, though the blue and gold have proven time and again to have great depth in each and every position across the court.

Leeds Rhinos v. Severn Stars

Expect an intriguing match to close out the round, with Leeds Rhinos and Severn Stars going head-to-head. Both sitting towards the bottom-end of the ladder having suffered some inconvenient and frustrating injuries, there is plenty to look forward to in this match and also plenty to prove here. Expect the Rhinos to get up once more with an exciting developing list, although the Stars could be in with a chance if they can command control through the midcourt early.

Expect Jade Clarke to lead the charge in this one for the Rhinos, while at both ends the ball is safe in the hands of Rhea Dixon and Vicki Oyesola with both players well and truly stepping up this season and continuously plying their trade around the court. That being said, the Stars have plenty of reliable players across the court even without Liana Leota, with Lucy Harris and Bethan Dyke standing strong through the centre as Georgia Rowe and Paige Reed continue to showcase their improved partnership week on week. Adi Bolakoro and Lucy Herdman will look to disrupt the still developing combination between Dixon and Sienna Rushton out the front.

Tip: Bath by 12, Rhinos by 6

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