Northern Ireland’s netballers are in Gibraltar for three Test matches which should edge Elaine Rice’s side closer to qualification for next summer’s Commonwealth Games.
The Warriors take on their hosts today and Sunday either side of facing the Isle of Man tomorrow on the fringes of a second tier Netball Europe event.
The top 12 teams in the world rankings at the official cut-off date of January 31 will qualify for Birmingham 2022, which would be a third appearance at the Games for the Warriors.
At present, Northern Ireland are ranked 11th, just ahead of Zimbabwe, who beat them narrowly at the 2019 World Cup, while Barbados are also within striking distance.
This year’s top tier European Championships haven’t taken place due to a combination of the pandemic and England, Scotland and Wales pursuing separate priorities.
England have been on tour to the southern hemisphere this autumn while, at eighth and ninth in the rankings, the Scots and Welsh have no incentive to risk losing games.
By contrast, the onus is on Northern Ireland to mitigate the risk of being overhauled by taking the opportunity to pick up whatever ranking points they can between now and January.
In Rice’s first match back at the helm since replacing Dan Ryan, the Warriors beat the Republic of Ireland 52-19 in Lisburn in August, their first outing in nearly two years.
With Gibraltar just 32nd in the world rankings and the Isle of Man 23rd, the ranking points on offer for what should be three convincing victories this week, have very low weighting.
The only change from the squad of 13 for August’s training games against Scotland and Wales in Glasgow sees uncapped defender Maria McCann replace Lauren Walshe.