Bay of Plenty Times
Mentor to the next wave of England netballers
England Roses’ veteran Geva Mentor is looking forward to playing international netball for the first time in more two years when her side takes on the Silver Ferns and she’s taken the long route to get here.
The Ferns are hosting England in a three-test series, with all matches to be played at Christchurch Arena, starting on September 20.
Mentor is a fixture in the Australian Super Netball competition but had to go via Singapore to get to New Zealand, where she went straight into MIQ.
“I set off from Melbourne, the hardest thing to look at was when I was on the plane and watching the plane literally go the opposite direction to where I needed to go. Eight hours in the wrong direction but was able to board the second flight from Singapore to Christchurch with the team, who also had a lay-over in Singapore,” Mentor said.
Due to Covid restrictions, the 36-year-old was only able to give her team-mates a wave.
“But now I get to see them when we get our half an hour break outside, we’re in two bubbles we get to walk around the court yard, so I get to catch up with everyone then,” Mentor said from the isolation facility.
Mentor’s last test was at the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool, when the Silver Ferns knocked them out in the semifinal.
She was meant to link up with the Roses for a series last year, but Covid put a stop on that.
“I didn’t realise how much time had flown between drinks because I’ve been in communication all the way through. I think that’s been the greatest thing with the Roses, no matter where their players are around the world they still touch base. I felt like I’ve been part of the England programme over those two years.”
One of the world’s finest goal keeps, she will get a chance to re-establish her defensive pairing with Layla Gusgoth, who did her achilles early on at the 2019 World Cup.
Following the series England plan to extend their tour across the Tasman with matches against the Diamonds, when Australian-based shooters Helen Housby and Jo Harten will join the side.
Mentor is excited about the growing competition at the England shooting end.
“I’ve been a part of the Roses for over 20 years now and definitely the work that New Zealand coaches Lyn Gunson and Wai Taumaunu instilled in us defensively I think set us up throughout the years.
“But I think we’ve sort of struggled a bit in attack so it’s really exciting to see. Obviously Jo and Helen have gone really well in Australia and George [Fisher] had a great year in New Zealand so I’m excited to see the likes of Ella [Clark] and Rhea [Dixon] and Sophie [Drakeford-lewis] sort of step up here in the Roses.
“They all bring such different styles of play and they’ve all got a really good eye for the shot which I think is something we’ve been down on percentage with England. Not necessarily in the last couple of years but definitely in the early years when I started out so these girls can shoot high volume which is fantastic.”
Mentor said the time in MIQ had flown by with the days very structured around a lot of Zoom sessions.
“We’ve got a group session where we are doing some running, so we made as much space as we can in our room and we’re clocking up two to three kilometres in our room, with running back and forth and moving around on a spot.
“The meals are the focal points for each day. I heard someone suggest, because the girls did MIQ last year, that anytime there’s lamb on the menu definitely go for it and I certainly have and it has not disappointed.”
The squad will leave quarantine today to allow them to train as a team and prepare for the fixtures at Christchurch Arena with alert levels being lowered in the South Island.
Mentor first hit the netball scene when she was selected for the Roses in 2000, making her debut against New Zealand at just 16.
She’s amassed 146 test caps and her longevity in the sport has been highlighted by the make-up of the relatively new England coaching team.
“Jess Thirlby [England head coach] was my first room-mate for my very first Commonwealth Games back in 2002. Sonia Mkloma, who is assistant coach who unfortunately can’t be with us this leg, is not only my best mate but also was my defensive partner for many years.”
She could also play against the daughter of her old mentor Wai Taumaunu.
Taumaunu was the national performance director for England Netball from 1998 to 2003 and was the assistant coach for the Roses in their 2003 Netball World Championships campaign.
The former Silver Ferns captain and coach brought through a generation of superstar English defenders, including Mentor, Mkoloma and Ama Abgeze.
Last month Taumaunu’s daughter Tiana Metuarau was named in the Silver Ferns’ squad for the first time.
“How amazing and incredible is that. I’ve been following Tiana’s journey all the way through.
“She was born in England and I think my Mum even used to look after her for a little bit while Wai was busy — to think that the circle has come
around and now yeah I could be playing up against her.
“And she’s finding phen- omenal form, I’ve kept an eye on the ANZ this year with George Fisher playing out there and I
think Tiana is playing fantastic netball.”