England surrendered their Commonwealth Games title after falling 60-51 to the world No 1s, Australia, in the semi-final.
It was a repeat of the gold-medal match from four years ago, but this time the Diamonds came out on top. They seized the game from start and never relinquished their grip, leaving England to now tackle New Zealand for bronze on Sunday.
“Losing is meant to hurt,” said England’s head coach, Jess Thirlby. “If you play really well and you lose then there’s an element where you can kind of get your head around it, but we gave ourselves a mountain to climb.
“The top four teams are capable of getting into final and contesting for gold, so for any of us that find ourselves in bronze it is disappointing.”
The Diamonds were already out to avenge their loss from four years ago and also had extra fire in their bellies after falling 57-55 to Jamaica to finish their pool in second for the first time. With pride and reputation at stake, Australia exploded with intent taking an early three-goal lead.
Just as England levelled the score four minutes into the game, play was interrupted to replace a goalpost after the defender Layla Guscoth flew face-first into the padding, knocking it off the post perch. The disruption favoured Australia who found another gear, picking off an England ball and delivering it to the star shooter Gretel Bueta with relative ease. She helped them to a 15-12 lead.
Thirlby rolled the dice and made changes, but the nightmare only continued for England. The onslaught of defending pressure applied by the Diamonds turned the Roses’ attack end into treacle. Australia picked up three held balls for their effort, which they used to stretch their lead out to nine. Despite a brief final surge at the end of the quarter by England to reduce the gap to six there was little doubt their opponents were in charge.
A third-quarter 16-13 loss meant the Roses went into the final 15 looking down the barrel of a nine-goal Australia lead. With Australia renowned for their ability to retain possession and England finding no tangible answer to Bueta, who shot 43 from 44, Thirlby’s side were unable to locate the turnover ball they needed to mount a comeback.
Like a master conductor the Australian goal shooter was commanding from the back, drawing penalty after penalty as the Roses’ defence tried to quieten her. Though the defending champions were more than willing they could not stop the inevitable.
Thirlby said: “There was nothing in there that tactically we didn’t expect. Bueta is a weapon; we know that. She’s brilliant and versatile coming out of the circle. I think she got too much hand on ball and her getting herself back into the circle exposed us.
“We certainly didn’t give up, we tried to navigate our way through some of those challenges, but Australia were smart; they’re known for keeping the ball particularly well. So we could have expected that, but we have expected more from ourselves.
“It is a disappointment for now, but we can’t sulk. We’ve got to get our head and shoulders back. Up until now we’ve performed really well and grown into the tournament so it’s a blip at a really bad time. Tomorrow needs to be a better performance.”
Australia will meet Jamaica in the final after the Sunshine Girls dominated against the world champions, New Zealand. Jamaica registered their biggest win against the Silver Ferns, 67-51, to progress to their first major final.