Wales waltz into World Cup
WALES has booked its spot in the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town after defeating Northern Ireland in a crucial European Qualifier decider overnight. After Scotland knocked off Northern Ireland the day before, Wales just needed to win to ensure safe passage into next year’s World Cup. The Feathers will take on the Thistles tomorrow, but both nations are now assured to a spot at the event. Funnily enough, the game between Wales and Northern Ireland was eerily similar to Scotland’s victory over the Warriors a mere 24 hours earlier.
WALES 18 | 15 | 16 | 11 (60)
NORTHERN IRELAND 6 | 8 | 9 | 11 (34)
Wales headed into the match with its tried and true starting seven, with towering shooter Georgia Rowe alongside Phillipa Yarranton, and the likes of slick midcourters Bethan Dyke and Nia Jones either side of the experienced Suzy Drane. Ella Powell-Davies and Christina Shaw once again headlined the defensive goal circle.
For Elaine Rice‘s Northern Ireland side, Rachel Duckers earned her start coming off an impressive game against Scotland, teaming up with Orlaith Rogers, while the big surprise was Caroline O’Hanlon in the wing attack bib, Frances Keenan starting in centre and Michelle Davidge on the bench. The defensive trio of Niamh Cooper, Fionnuala Toner and Michelle Magee once again started in the first phase.
Sara Moore‘s team showed they meant business from the get-go with an immediate turnover thanks to Jones forcing a mistake. Before the blink of an eye, the likes of Dyke had combined with Rowe for the first four goals of the match. Up the other end, the Warriors shooters of Duckers and Rogers looked a little shaky, but it was the midcourt mixup that seemed to be causing some headaches, as the more reliable Wales outfit was pouncing on Northern Ireland uncertainty.
Rogers got her team on the board three minutes into the match, but the pressure of Powell-Davies on Duckers was making the goal attack less certain about her shot execution. A body clash between Drane and Keenan saw the umpire pause the match to ask them to “take that out of their game”, as Wales continued to pile on the goals and take Northern Ireland out of the game, and the World Cup. The score was 13-5 with five minutes to play, but the Warriors missed shots were proving costly.
With 1:26 on the clock, Davidge came on for Cooper at wing defence which again raised some questions rather than her preferred positions of centre or wing attack, but it mattered little as the confidence from Yarranton and Rowe was obvious. By the first break, Wales lead 18-6, the identical score that Scotland had put up against Northern Ireland the day before.
The second term saw the Warriors wheel out the wholesale changes, while Wales kept its starting seven, in what was predictable given how the game had gone thus far. Davidge moved into her centre position with Ciara Crosbie and Alex Martin coming on in the shooting circle, Magee moved to goal defence with Olivia McDonald coming on in goal keeper, and Toner moved to wing defence.
The second term was much of the same though for the spectators as Wales poured on 15 goals to eight to open up a 19-goal margin, the same half-time margin as the Scotland and Northern Ireland match. Northern Ireland looked a lot better in defence and midcourt, but the shooters were not making the most of their chances. Toner was working hard in defence and O’Hanlon was doing her thing in wing attack, but the Welsh defence was forcing mistakes from the young Northern Irish shooters.
Up the other end, Rowe was a pillar of strength and consistency, while Yarranton continued to grow in just her fourth international start. With three minutes left in the first half, Clare Jones came on for Drane in a move that has become a regular substitution regardless of game situation. By half-time, the score was 33-14 and the misses proving costly with Wales just too strong up the other end, and Dyke still feeding through to the shooters well.
Neither nation made any changes heading into the second half, with Rowe shooting the first goal of the term yet again, while the two Jones’s in Clare and Nia were controlling the midcourt. Though the pressure from Northern Ireland was forcing mistakes from Wales, the lack of capitalisation up the other end was not rewarding the likes of Toner and Davidge for their defensive efforts. The young Northern Ireland shooters have plenty of potential, but the confidence was waining with each pressure act from the more experienced Powell-Davies and Shaw.
The most symbolic play of the match came late in the contest, with Northern Ireland earning a rare turnover, but an errant pass from Davidge was plucked off by Powell-Davies. Wales raced it down the other end and Clare Jones hit up Rowe in the circle who punished the Warriors for their miss. By the last change, the score was 49-24, again eerily similar to that of the Scotland-Northern Ireland three quarter time score of 49-23.
Heading into the last term, Wales made the only change bringing on Eleanor Watkins for Yarranton as Northern Ireland kept the status quo. An elite pass from Clare Jones in midcourt through to an open Rowe in between multiple defenders earned applause from fans and teammates alike, and it was counter-contrast to an earlier simple turnover from Northern Ireland. Just a few minutes in, Wales rung a couple more changes with Shona O’Dwyer and Lucy Howells coming on in wing attack and goal defence respectively as Powell-Davies moved to goal keeper and Dyke and Shaw rested.
Northern Ireland put up far more of a fight in the final term, eventually breaking even in terms of scoring with an 11-goal apiece quarter. Perhaps the only confusing aspect from a Wales perspective was opting to bring on rising young shooter Sarie Watkins to make the shooting circle a pair of Watkins. Regardless of names, Wales kept at it, and while it was clear Northern Ireland now had the more experienced lineup out on court, the damage was done.
Toner received another caution as she had the match before for intentional obstruction. O’Hanlon continued to try hard and the combination of Rogers and Crosbie in goal attack and goal shooter appeared to be the most natural of those used in the match with the latter coming on to replace Martin. But the overall balance of the Wales lineup was too much for Northern Ireland and the Feathers stamped their tickets to Cape Town.
AROUND THE COURTS
Scotland’s devasting form at the World Cup Qualifiers continued on day four, as the Thistles completely destroyed the winless Gibraltar. On fire from the get-go to pile on 20 goals to two in the opening term. That lead grew by half-time though the underdogs did manage to score six goals in the next quarter, before keeping Gibraltar to another 10 goals in the second half. Unsurprisingly the defensive combination of Emily Nicholl and Rachel Conway were outstanding, while the match gave coach Tamsin Greenway the chance to start Emma Barrie and Cerys Cairns in the shooting circle. Though hard to find positives in such a huge loss, Gibraltar goal attack Megan Ruiz had another hardworking game.
The other match was the match of the tournament, with Isle of Man taking down Republic of Ireland by just one goal. Backing up its win over Gibraltar the day before, Isle of Man caused somewhat of an upset in the game, after Ireland had taken it up to Northern Ireland a couple of days earlier. Leading by two goals at quarter time and six by the main break, the Manx Rams withstood thee late fightback with Ireland turning a late ball over in the final 30 seconds which could have levelled the match. Corey McGlynn and Millie Cox provided some spark in a losing side, while Isle of Man captain Ashley Hall and fellow midcourter Rachel Johnstone were busy.