The England manager, Tracey Neville, was delighted with her side’s opening performance as they beat Uganda 64-32 – not least that they kept their cool in a game that had some particularly physical encounters. Centre Stella Oyella tussled with her counterpart and England captain Serena Guthrie throughout the match and had already earned a caution and two minutes in the sin-bin when she tangled limbs with her replacement Jade Clarke. She was permanently sent off, leaving Uganda with a 20-goal deficit, only six players and 13 minutes still to play.
If Oyella looked confused as the umpire pointed her off court, it is because no one had seen such a sight in a World Cup before – including Neville, who admitted to some sympathy for Uganda. “They don’t get out on the international circuit that much, they don’t get to experience this,” she said. “They’re a great team, they’re not ranked sixth in the world for no reason. And at some points in the game they actually had us.” It had taken 28 seconds for England to score their first goal of the campaign, and only 40 for Guthrie to put in her first leaping intercept. But while England were always favourites – they beat Uganda 3-0 in their Test series last year – a tenacious, patient performance from Uganda prevented England racing away with the game in the first quarter.
It could not prevent moments of brilliance from England, as when Geva Mentor saved a ball off the back line, and England moved it to Jo Harten – and the net – in the space of three passes. It could not prevent an ever widening scoreline. But it did slow the game down, enough that the frustration was written on Helen Housby’s face.
Uganda’s captain and goalshooter Peace Proscovia also put up a strong show in her individual encounters with Mentor, the best goalkeeper in the world. To say netball changed Proscovia’s life is no cliche – she grew up in the kind of poverty that requires you to walk miles for fresh water and condemns your schoolfriends to forced marriages. She is an inspiration on and off court. But here her team struggled to get the ball to her, and she spent a lot of time looking on from the far end of the court, hands on hips.
If it was tempting, on occasion, to switch one’s gaze to court two, where Scotland were involved in a tight game against Samoa – they ultimately won 37-25 – a convincing win will be all that England wanted from this game, not least to celebrate Harten’s 100th cap. Guthrie paid tribute to her afterwards – “she’s an incredibly passionate player and she provides a lot of composure for us” – and England’s famously fiery captain was not bothered at all by the style of play they had been caught in. “Hey, look, I give as good as I get out there,” she said. “I love the hustle and bustle of the game.”