This summer’s Commonwealth Games are fast approaching and the Scottish Thistles netball team name qualified just in time.
With just over 100 days until the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, the final six netball teams have been confirmed, including the Scottish Thistles. After ninth place finishes in Glasgow and on the Gold Coast alongside two trips to the 11th place playoffs at the Netball World Cup, this marks another crucial step in the growth of Netball Scotland and the Scottish Thistles. But what’s changed since the Commonwealth Games four years ago and the World Cup in Liverpool in 2019, how did we get here, and what can the Tartan Army expect in the NEC?
Since netball’s introduction in Kuala Lumpa 1998, 12 teams have qualified for the Commonwealth Games where they are split into two groups of six. Qualification previously saw the host nation and the six highest ranking nations receiving automatic spots with the other 5 slots being issued to the winner of each regional qualifier. Since Gold Coast 2018, and partially as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the host nation plus the eleven highest ranking Commonwealth nations have qualified for Birmingham 2022 with no qualifiers. This has seen a flurry of friendlies being held in the past six months as teams on the edge of the top 12 – including the Home Nations – aimed to increase or maintain their ranking.
The Scottish Thistles proved their top 12 credentials with a loss against top five ranked South Africa before two comfortable wins against Barbados (the team Scotland narrowly beat to finish ninth in Gold Coast and eleventh in Liverpool). England, as host nation, had already qualified with the other Home Nations of Northern Ireland and Wales qualifying alongside Scotland by ranking ninth and eleventh.
Each team at Birmingham will play five group games before the top two in each group play crossover semi-finals with the winners playing for gold and the losers playing for bronze. The other eight teams move straight into placing matches against their equivalent placing team in the other group. After twice finishing fifth in the group and winning the ninth-place playoff, there is real hope that the Thistles could take a real step forward in August.
Former Australian Diamonds’ Head Coach Lisa Alexander described their performance against Barbados as a “top 5 performance”. Whilst it may be a little too soon for a medal push, there is certainly no limit on what the Thistles can achieve. Starting on Saturday 30 July with a tough match against Australia, the Scots will be seeking a strong performance before a must-win match against Wales. After a rest day, the Thistles then play Jamaica, Barbados, and South Africa, knowing an upset against Jamaica could put all the pressure on South Africa going into a final group game with the winner potentially progressing to the Semi-Finals.
Since the Gold Coast and Netball World Cup, Netball Scotland have shown their drive and ambition with the hiring of six-time Netball Superleague winner Tamsin Greenway as Head Coach and the reigning Netball Superleague winning coach Sara Francis-Bayman. The two share over 150 England Roses caps between them and are multiple Commonwealth and World Cup medallists.
With their two proven coaches, the Thistles have gone from strength to strength despite the pandemic. Greenway has kept the experience of Claire Maxwell and Lynsey Gallagher in the squad, tempted former-England player Iona Christian to represent Scotland, and developed a core group of younger players. Watch out for a young dynamic shooting circle combining Bethan Goodwin, Niamh McCall, and Emma Barrie (21, 20, and 19 respectively) alongside the experience of Gallagher.
Meanwhile in the defensive end, University of Glasgow’s own Rachel Conway (Third Year, Medicine) will be staking a claim for the starting GK bib alongside Brunel University student Kalea Stagg. The final squad of 12 (plus three non-traveling reserves) will be selected in May and announced publicly by 30 May.
These games may come too soon for a medal push, but with a World Cup in 2023 and the recent confirmation of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 2026, this is the time to start watching the Thistles.