BIRMINGHAM, England — Jamaica's Sunshine Girls did something they had never done before — beat Australia at a major championship in a show of resilience, class, and poise that shook the foundations of international netball's hierarchy and left many questioning, hoping that the Aussie/New Zealand duopoly will be broken at the Commonwealth Games.
The Oceana neighbours have traded the gold and silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in six of the seven installments of the event at the Games, with the exception being England's gold-medal triumph in 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia.
"Well, I can tell us seh mi deh pon top a di wurl'," beamed Head Coach Connie Francis after her team's spine-chilling 57-55 win over the world number one-ranked Diamonds at the NEC Arena yesterday.
The Jamaicans will next face New Zealand in the semi-finals tomorrow, after the world number two-ranked Kiwis suffered a heavy 54-44 defeat to number-three England, in a potential changing of the guard in international netball.
"I back these girls 110 per cent because I believe that they can do it no matter what, they believe and that is all we need. We have done the work, they have done the work from back home and we're just putting it together."
Francis, who believes the team has come of age and is primed to consistently beat the world's best, credited the players for their maturity and discipline, pointing to a greater self-belief within the group and an unquenching determination to muscle their way into the championship game and push for their first gold medal at this level.
"It's just that discipline that was always missing from our game and now a key part of our game is about taking care of the ball. We made errors and it's not that the Australians were making interceptions, it with us passing it outside… those little things that we need to clean up and it just happened that we found ourselves down early in the game," Francis assessed.
"We were still in it and we knew that we just had to give ourselves an opportunity. Our defending team started a bit flat [but] they were able to dissect the Australian attack. In our attack we decided to be patient and just push it around and work our way through making short and long passes which really worked in our favour. They didn't show any frustration or weren't being impatient, they were comfortable pushing the ball around and that is something that we want to take forward," Francis said.
The Jamaicans found themselves trailing by one at half-time with a 29-30 scoreline with the Aussies pushing that to a six-point advantage with the third quarter ending 46-40 in favour of four-time Commonwealth Games gold medal winners.
However, the Jamaicans rallied in the final quarter, outscoring their rivals 17-9 on the back of some inspiring defending and a vibrant mid-court display, with star shooter Jhaniele Fowler leading the lines with 47 goals from 50 attempts, as the fourth-ranked Jamaicans delivered a stunning result in front of a rocking crowd.
Goal attack Shanice Beckford was in top form, serving up 18 assists and adding 10 goals in the Jamaican effort.
Francis, who pointed to the all-round skill and experience in the team, noted that the girls are determined to add their touch to the celebrations around Jamaica's 60th anniversary of independence.
"When you look at our squad, although we do have four new players who are playing at the Commonwealth Games for the first time, we have eight senior players who have been there, done that, and who have been to one, two, three Games. So with that experience and also having those experienced defenders who are playing, week in week out against the Australians and those other players from England and so one, they have dissected them and they know that they can defeat them," said Francis.
"… This is our best chance of trying to win a better medal so we are just living in the moment and just relishing it and we know that in the semi-final, it nah guh easy," said Francis.
The world number four-ranked Sunshine Girls have finished third in three of the seven netball championships held at the Commonwealth Games.
They took the bronze at the Manchester 2002, Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 Games.