Commonwealth Games 2022: Natalie Metcalf to captain England

By Becky GreyBBC Sport
Natalie Metcalf jumps in the air to catch the ball
Natalie Metcalf won gold with England at the 2018 Commonwealth Games
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
Hosts: Birmingham Dates: 28 July to 8 August
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV with extra streams on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, the BBC Sport website & app.

Natalie Metcalf will take on the England captaincy for the team's Commonwealth Games title defence.

Metcalf, 29, replaces ex-skipper Serena Guthrie, who announced her pregnancy and retirement from netball in March.

Commonwealth Games debutantes Eleanor Cardwell, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Layla Guscoth and Laura Malcolm are in a 12-player England squad for the Games, which begin in Birmingham next month.

England shocked hosts Australia to win a first Commonwealth gold in 2018.

Seven players from that victorious side have once again been picked by head coach Jess Thirlby.

Shooter Helen Housby - who scored in the final second to secure the historic gold four years ago - is named alongside Jo Harten, who will be vice-captain.

Fellow gold medallists Jade Clarke and Beth Cobden are included as centre-court options, with Eboni Usoro-Brown among the defenders.

Geva Mentor will play in her sixth Commonwealth Games and Stacey Francis-Bayman, who was on a break from international netball when England won gold, completes the squad.

Thirlby has also named four reserve players - Imogen Allison, Funmi Fadoju, George Fisher and Hannah Joseph.

The netball will begin at Birmingham's NEC on Friday 29 July, with the final on Sunday 7 August.

"Growing up I always wanted to play for England and being asked to captain the team is more than I ever could have imagined," Metcalf said.

From A&E to Commonwealth debut

Layla Guscoth playing for England
Layla Guscoth returned to England from Australia to volunteer for hospital shifts at the start of the coronavirus pandemic

Guscoth took a break from international netball between 2015 and 2018 to concentrate on qualifying to be a doctor.

The defender, who is from Birmingham, was not sure she would ever return and a Commonwealth debut was far from her mind when England won gold in Australia.

"I was 10 hours into a night shift," recalled the 30-year-old.

"I was checking my phone in A&E trying to secretly see the score. I caught the end of it thankfully.

"It ended up me, a few of the nurses and some other people sat around watching on my tiny little phone the last few minutes of the final.

"It was certainly something that gained a lot of attention once the girls had won the medal."

Title defence 'not something to be scared of'

Following their 2018 Commonwealth victory, England took bronze at a home World Cup in 2019.

More recently, they claimed a first series win in New Zealand in September 2021, before victory against Jamaica three months later and defeat against Australia in the Quad Series final in January 2022.

Head coach Thirlby, who represented England at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, said her side would see the pressure to defend their Commonwealths title as "an opportunity".

"I believe that the ability we have to inspire another generation off the back of 2018 is a great position to be in," she added.

"It's certainly not a threat, it's not something to be scared of. To have a fan-base who expect us to be successful is a huge compliment.

"When I was playing, people wanted us to but the belief was lacking."

England's home-based players travelled to South Africa for a training camp on Sunday.

The five who play club netball abroad will join the team in Nottingham on 10 July once their domestic league seasons have finished.

England's Commonwealth Games netball squad

Eleanor Cardwell (GA, GS), Jade Clarke (C, WD), Beth Cobden (WD, C), Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (GA, WA), Stacey Francis-Bayman (GD, WD, GK), Layla Guscoth (GD, GK), Joanne Harten (GS, GA), Helen Housby (GA, GS), Laura Malcolm (WD, C, WA), Geva Mentor (GK, GD), Natalie Metcalf (capt - WA, GA), Eboni Usoro-Brown (GD, GK).

Reserves: Imogen Allison (WD, C), Funmi Fadoju (GD, GK, WD), George Fisher (GS, GA), Hannah Joseph (WA, C).