England Netball coach sets sights on first ever World Cup final

Jess Thirlby
Jess Thirlby

Jess Thirlby is a woman on a mission.

That mission starts and ends in Cape Town as the new England Netball head coach sets her sights early on steering the Vitality Roses into their first-ever World Cup final in South Africa in 2023.

She may have only been in the role for three months, but her quest starts as early as this weekend, with England taking on the Proteas in Cape Town in their first friendly series of their next four-year cycle.

Thirlby, who played for England for 15 years before guiding Team Bath to four Super League titles as coach, took the Roses reins just after they missed out on a spot in a first World Cup final in the summer, which had been the goal asked of Tracey Neville when taking the job four years ago.

Thirlby has been tasked with the same challenge, and she knows a win this weekend would be the perfect way to start.

“I want to steer the Roses into the World Cup final in Cape Town,” she said. “It is the obvious thing we are yet to achieve, and I’m driven by that every day.

“As much as the last two years have been fantastic, winning Commonwealth gold and World Cup bronze, there’s still one outstanding box on the to-do list.

“As we saw in the Commonwealth Games, once you get to the final, anything can happen.

“Facing the 2023 hosts South Africa this weekend is the perfect way to start the cycle. It’s going to whet our appetite for sure.”

She states her ambitions with conviction but Thirlby knows such a task is far easier said than done.

If there’s one word synonymous with England Netball at present, it’s transition.

With Neville leaving the fold and the likes of Serena Guthrie, Helen Housby and Jo Harten all taking well-earned breaks from the senior set-up, the door has been left wide open for a new generation to live up to the hype.

Just four bronze medallists remain in the squad in Jade Clarke, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Fran Williams and Fran Panagarry as the Roses prepare to take on South Africa this weekend.

The expectations remain high but Thirlby doesn’t mind the pressure, the head coach adamant that she has chosen the right players to do the job.

“It’s not easy to maintain, and we’re under no illusions that it will be a challenge,” added Thirlby.

“There’s a lot been spoken about those senior players and a lot of them are on a well-deserved and expected rest after not only the World Cup, but an incredibly draining cycle of back-to-back competitions.

“Picking the squad was difficult, and I’m pleased it was. We have a great blend of youth and experience and now is the time for those players on the fringes to enter the fold.

“I feel an obligation and a responsibility to contribute to the success, but I’m excited by that. What better place is there to be in than the Vitality Roses head coach?”