England captain Serena Guthrie has shrugged off Australian mind games as the Netball World Cup prepares to get under way in Liverpool on Friday.
Australian captain Caitlin Bassett suggested the hosts will be “unprepared” for the pressure of seeking to repeat last year’s dramatic Commonwealth Games triumph on the Gold Coast.
It is a mark of how far the sport has come since then that Guthrie has been faced with such expectations – and public rivalries – ahead of England’s opening group stage match against Uganda.
And Guthrie insists it is in fact Bassett’s team who have a bigger point to prove as they aim to bounce back from their humiliation on home soil and re-establish the dominance which has seen them win the last three world crowns.
Guthrie told PA: “We are not trying to shy away from the pressure at all – I think every team in the top five is under pressure for different reasons and it is about who handles the pressure best.
“Australia are coming into the tournament having lost in the Commonwealth Games and they are very aware of how much it matters to them to keep hold of their world title.
“We have the massive advantage of having done it once, and knowing that coming into a home competition relaxes us, rather than making us feel more tense.
“Although we’ve made a group decision to park the Commonwealth Games, we can gain confidence from the fact we have already got over the line and we know what is required to do it again.”
England’s opening group stage game – which is swiftly followed by matches against Scotland and Samoa on Saturday and Sunday respectively – comes amid a surge of unprecedented domestic interest in the sport.
And Guthrie, who has played professionally in Australia and New Zealand – the two nations which have contested the last five finals – is determined to reap the rewards in front of what is likely to be a seven-figure TV audience.
“The bottom line is we have to come out and perform – we know so many people will be watching us and it’s great because 10 years ago nobody could care less about the Netball World Cup.
“Since I first came onto the squad things have changed massively. And being part of a group that can potentially push the game and women’s sport forward even more makes it a very proud moment.”
Northern Ireland face the daunting task of starting the tournament against Australia on Friday morning, while Scotland face Sri Lanka before a much-anticipated match against England on Saturday.
Scotland captain Claire Maxwell is realistic about her team’s chances of upsetting the hosts but said her own team could bask in the reflected glory of their recent success.
“To be honest I think England are kind of next level in terms of where we are currently,” said Maxwell. “But you want your neighbours excelling to grow the sport and we know we are going to be part of a great occasion.
“We are currently ranked seventh in the world and we really want to cement that so we are looking for a top-eight finish. We have a tough draw but we believe we have the strength in depth which will allow us to hit that target.”
Initial group stage matches will be played over the first three days of competition before the second round schedule is formed. The World Cup final is due to take place on Sunday, July 21.