Commonwealth Games: Elaine Rice backing netball girls to bounce back
The real business at Gold Coast 2018 begins tomorrow for Northern Ireland’s netballers after a predictable double defeat at the weekend ended their top-six hopes — they lost 48-35 to South Africa and 79-41 to Jamaica.
Upsetting South Africa was seen as Elaine Rice’s side’s best bet of taking a major scalp at this competition and they actually edged the possession stats in three of the four quarters.
But they couldn’t capitalise sufficiently on the scoreboard and the fifth seeds eventually won a game which was much closer than the result suggested.
South Africa pulled clear late in the opening period but Northern Ireland scored five of the first six goals of the second quarter, prompting opposing coach Norma Plummer to call a time-out.
She brought on 2011 World Cup Player of the Tournament Erin Burger to counter Northern Ireland captain Caroline O’Hanlon’s influence at centre and that significant alteration helped.
Northern Ireland still edged the quarter but South Africa weathered the storm in spite of the best efforts of O’Hanlon and vice-captain Fionnuala Toner, who was simply outstanding in defence.
Caribbean giants Jamaica, bronze medallists at Glasgow 2014, were expected to be an even tougher test yesterday but again Rice’s gallant greens matched them in many aspects.
They actually created 18 chances to Jamaica’s 17 in the first quarter but the Sunshine Girls led 17-11 at the end of it thanks to respective conversion rates of 100 and 61 per cent.
Jamaica made the most of their huge height advantage in the attacking circle with both shooters standing 6ft 5in and their shooting success provided the foundation for victory.
Northern Ireland also lost their first three group games at Glasgow 2014 but ultimately finished a superb seventh thanks to a hat-trick of victories thereafter.
Winning their crunch clashes with Barbados tomorrow and Fiji on Wednesday would earn Rice’s side a showdown with the team finishing fourth in the other group.
“The start of the tournament was always going to be difficult for us given the standard of opposition but even against Jamaica we matched them in everything except height,” reflected Rice.
“Likewise we matched South Africa in every aspect around the court and made more intercepts but ultimately weren’t able to translate pressure into enough shots and scores on the board.
“That was the difference between being beaten and causing a huge upset but the players have given everything in these first few games and can only benefit.
“Now we must deliver results against Barbados and Fiji and everyone’s relishing that.”