Welsh win high pressure contest over Scotland
WALES was officially crowned the top European Qualifier for next year’s World Cup, defeating the Feathers’ biggest rivals in Scotland by seven goals overnight to remain undefeated at the tournament in Glasgow. Both sides went into the clash having qualified for the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town, but pride was on the line as Wales had knocked off the Thistles at the recent Commonwealth Games, with Scotland hoping to get it done on home soil. It was not to be though, as the Feathers answered every challenge and produced a strong fourth term to come away with the seven-goal win, 58-51.
SCOTLAND 13 | 13 | 12 | 13 (51)
WALES 17 | 14 | 12 | 15 (58)
Neither team threw any surprises in the starting sevens, with some terrific head-to-heads planned. Suzy Drane and Hannah Leighton were set to do battle in the centre, while Iona Christian and Nia Jones were on one wing, and Claire Maxwell and Bethan Dyke on the other. Both sides had deadeye goal shooters in Georgia Rowe and Bethan Goodwin who had hardly missed a shot all tournament, while stars such as Niamh McCall and Emily Nicholl for Scotland, and Ella Powell-Davies and Christina Shaw for Wales, meant there were incredible matchups all over the court.
The pressure from the get-go was intense, as Phillipa Yarranton missed the first shot on goal, saved by Rachel Conway on the rebound, and punished up the other end off a perfect pass from Leighton to Goodwin and she finished it off. They went 2-0 up, but soon Wales caught back, with the passing between Dyke and Rowe up one end, and McCall and Goodwin up the other, was simply brilliant. The connections both teams had was remarkable, and a key reason why both had earned qualification to the World Cup.
Maxwell and Jones were working hard at their respective wing defence roles, and the game was getting fiery between the rivals as Jones was cautioned for descent with five minutes left in the opening term. There was so little in the game that an overthrow towards Goodwin forced a turnover to Wales, and suddenly by being able to capitalise through Rowe, they took the lead. A second turnover off Leighton’s hands meant Wales went out to a five-goal lead just before the break, but a deadly accurate shot with three seconds remaining from Goodwin cut it back to four goals at the first change.
Scotland headed into the second term without any chances despite being down, with Tamsin Greenway happy with the effort out there. Northern Ireland brought on Clare Jones into centre with Drane sent to the bench and getting checked out by physios. As the game went on, Wales started to grow a larger lead, with a couple of turnovers extending the gap out to seven goals, 23-16, five minutes into the term. McCall produced one of her trademark long bombs, but another turnover – thanks to the quick hands of Powell-Davies had the Feathers still in control.
Greenway then called on her bench, bringing on Kelly Boyle in centre, and sending Leighton to wing defence to try and match Dyke’s speed who was starting to find more space against Maxwell. Nicholl was working tirelessly in the defence and almost pulled in a terrific intercept with a great reading of the ball, but Rowe’s extra reach saw the goal keeper hold firm and score, putting it out to nine goals, 28-19 with five and a half minutes remaining. Just as it looked like the Feathers might extend the lead into double digits, McCall won a turnover thanks to full court defence, and then the Thistles hit back.
Christian was cautioned for persistent contact meaning both players in the matchup between Jones and Christian were on a caution. Jones herself received another caution for a delay of play with 50 seconds remaining in the term, and with Goodwin firing late and scoring three goals in a row to cut the half-time margin to five. The Thistles had been able to keep the status quo relatively even despite losing the term by a goal, though still were within reach at 31-26.
Neither side made a change coming out of the long break and an immediate turnover against Christian looked worrying, but Scotland won it back through the same way. Goodwin was on fire as McCall missed a rare chance, and then Scotland chewed back into the deficit. Thanks to remarkable hands from Christian, deadeye passing and smarts from McCall and the unmissable Goodwin, the Thistles found themselves level with eight minutes remaining in the third term at 33 goals apiece.
Shaw had something to say about that though, getting in a hand to intercept with three and a half minutes left in the quarter, as the Welsh went end-to-end and Dyke got it to Rowe for another. The lead went out to a three-goal buffer, and when an expected penalty wasn’t called that the Thistles expected, they were called for stepping and Wales rushed it down the other end. Scoring with a minute to go, Wales held that five-goal margin once again heading into the last change. For all of Scotland’s good work, the Thistles still trailed, 38-43.
Northern Ireland remained steadfast in just the one change for the entire match, not making a move in the last quarter, while Scotland brought back Maxwell into wing defence for some calming influence, while Hannah Grant came on at goal keeper to replace Conway. Wales shooting was just too consistent with Rowe on fire and Dyke finding the space to feed her. Scotland hit hard again in the first five minutes to cut the deficit back to three goals, but a rare Nicholl turnover when 46-50 down proved costly. Back-to-back goals put it out to six with 6:35 on the clock.
Yet another turnover – by Shaw once again no less – resulted in Wales blowing the lead way out to 10 goals. Nicholl was cautioned for intentional contact as she desperately tried to win an aerial ball into Rowe. Scotland eventually forced a turnover in the last couple of minutes and even cut it back to seven goals thanks to McCall nailing some long bombs, but ultimately time was their worst enemy. The early turnovers in the quarter – and late in the third – had proved the difference, with Goodwin just missing the last shot on the final whistle, and the scores standing at 58-51. Wales had won the battle, but both were heading to the World Cup.
AROUND THE COURTS
Northern Ireland bounced back from consecutive losses – and a missed qualification – to take care of Isle of Man and ensure the Warriors wrapped up third spot. Both sides had won against Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar to playoff for third spot. It was the Warriors who came away with the win thanks to a strong start of 17-8 and they never let up, winning 61-32. Niamh Cooper and Fionnuala Toner were superb in the defensive half of the court and roaming through midcourt, while for the Manx Rams, it was captain Ashley Hall once again busy playing both wing attack and goal attack.
In the battle of the two winless sides, Republic of Ireland picked up a 14-goal victory over Gibraltar. A little unlucky against Isle of Man the day before, Ireland was able to come away with a comfortable 50-36 win largely due to a 10-goal lead at half-time 27-17. Ireland held on after Gibraltar won the third term by a goal, by firing off 14-9 in the later term to secure the victory. Eimhear O’Prey has showcased her defensive versatility at the tournament and was lively once again, with Ciara Lynch and Corey McGlynn good in defence, while Anna Hernandez was one of Gibraltar’s best in defeat.