Leading the world champions by two goals at half-time of this second Test, England captain Serena Guthrie must have wondered how her 100th international cap could possibly get any better. If only she could have paused that moment.
When the full-time buzzer went, not only were England left rueing a missed opportunity as they pondered a 54-47 defeat, but Guthrie was on crutches after suffering a nasty ankle injury. Her pride was still evident as she hobbled her way through a guard of honour, but there must have been an overwhelming sense of what might have been as New Zealand celebrated wrapping up the Taini Jamison Trophy in Hamilton with one game to spare.
To keep New Zealand to within 13 goals in Wednesday’s first Test had been an impressive achievement given England’s lack of match practice - with none of their squad playing a competitive game since March - compared to their opponents, and for much of this game it looked like an upset might be on the cards.
Despite such a quick turnaround after almost eight months out, England flew out of the blocks with intensity and vigour rarely seen in the opening encounter, Guthrie leading the way with a series of trademark flying interceptions.
Laura Malcolm’s pinpoint release and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis’s relentless bursts into pockets of space provided constant threats in attack, as the high work-rate squeezed New Zealand into errors: twice in quick succession the hosts were penalised for held ball with nowhere to go. By half-time, England were 25-23 up and buzzing from a rampant second quarter.
All too quickly, it was gone. With eight of her biggest names unavailable for this series, England head coach Jess Thirlby - who is leading the side 11,000 miles away from her home near Bath after testing positive for coronavirus - is keen to use this tour to expose her inexperienced squad members to this elite level, but a raft of half-time changes only disrupted her side.
"If someone had told 18 year old Serena that I was going to get 100, I would have laughed them out of the room.
To get to be here though I’m so grateful, so appreciative. It will live in my memory forever."@serenabob 🌹💯🏴
📸: Kevin Booth, Sportpix pic.twitter.com/YoIacKQfB6
— England Netball (at 🏡) (@EnglandNetball) October 30, 2020
A run of six straight goals put New Zealand back in the lead and by the time Guthrie went down following a collision less than seven minutes into the half, the game had run away from her side. Thirteen goals proved the difference in the first match, while it was just seven this time around.
Kat Ratnapala, England assistant coach, said: “It was half the deficit from the last Test to this Test, so I’m really proud of the girls for coming out.
“That third quarter was costly for us. But massive positives again that we’ll take.”
Asked about how her team’s substitutions are made, Ratnapala explained: “Some are preordained - speaking to Jess back home and having some thought process around when we’re going to be bringing people on.
“But it is also a feel. We need to go with the gut and also what’s going on in front of us, not just pre-planned changes. It’s great to get the players out there.”
The two sides meet again for the final match of the series on Sunday.