The Adelaide centre is speaking ahead of the world number ones’ Wednesday clash against England in London, the second in a three-match series. 

Despite their long-held place at the pinnacle of world netball, alongside New Zealand – all of the sport’s major championships have been won by one of the two sides – Von Bertouch insists her team isn’t taking England lightly. And for good reason.

This is the first time in three years the Diamonds have come to the UK, and that time, while losing the series, England recorded their first victory over the Australians. 

It’s not something the Aussies will forget in a hurry and as such England is facing a full-strength Diamonds side.

“We’re a team where losing is never acceptable,” says Von Bertouch.

“We definitely play these games to win them. We never go out on court to underperform, so we do everything we can to win the game.”

The Diamonds will be weakened by a policy to leave anyone who’s had surgery in the off-season at home, which she says is an indication of the injury risk of the sport, not an underestimation of their opponents.

“It’s tough on court, and if you go in unfit you’ll get caught out and risk even worse injury,” says Von Bertouch, adding, “especially against England”.

Why, “especially England”? Simple: “They’re a very physical side,” she explains.

“We played them in October and had some very bruising encounters – I know for one I got a bruised coccyx (tailbone).

”Von Bertouch, 30, references the Quad Series played Down Under late last year between the Diamonds, NZ’s Silver Ferns, South Africa and England.

While the series was predictably dominated by the Australasian sides, England put in a spirited showing with convincing wins against the Proteas and pushing Oz and NZ all the way.

“We know they’ll be hard, they’re getting better all the time, and they’re always out to challenge us, so we’ve got to be prepared for the physicality,” she says. “They’re really strong girls which makes them hard to play against.”

While the speed and agility in netball has never been disputed, Von Bertouch – one of the speediest and most agile players going around and probably the world’s best centre – says the physical side of the sport has gone up a gear in recent years and certainly during her nine-year international career.

“It’s very different – how fit you have to be nowadays is so much more intense than when I started out,” she says. “We work a lot harder on strength and power than we ever did before.

“You definitely hit the players harder now and the play is becoming a lot harder and more exciting to watch, because people are faster and stronger and have those bigger and harder hits.”Wait, the hits are harder?

Hits, in netball, where an umpire blows the whistle for any form of contact? Where the umpires actually say “contact” and single out the offender as though they’d passed a note in class?

Where skirts remain the obligatory uniform even if the pleats and scungies are no more?

Isn’t netball a ‘non-contact sport’?Not surprisingly, considering she just said “hit” and “hard” several times in the previous sentence, Von Bertouch laughs. 

“It’s definitely not non-contact,” she confirms for anyone who hasn’t seen the speed and movement in tight quarters of elite netball that can only lead to collisions.

“The best thing for people to do is come and watch a game. When people see a live game they really get an understanding of how fast and intense it is, and how much contact goes on off the ball.”

England fans didn’t need to be asked twice to catch the world champions take on their team in Bath on Sunday, where the first of three matches was sold out, certainly a rarity for the sport outside clashes between Australia and New Zealand.

Tickets are also selling well for their matches at Wembley Arena and Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena on Saturday. It’s impressive for a series which means little more than pride in the big scheme of things.

In reality, it’s a valuable  hit-out for two sides preparing for the next major meeting of netball’s best – the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow starting July 2014.

While the Aussies have it over New Zealand in world championships, with 10 wins to the Kiwis’ four since the first in 1963, they are two-a-piece in the four Commonwealth Games.

With netball not being an Olympic sport, this is the big one.“July seems like a long time away but our preparations are well underway,” Von Bertouch says.

“That’s one of the great things about this tour. It gives us a chance to take a trip over this side of the world, and it’s especially good experience for the younger players to play top opposition.

That depth of experience is so important in big tournaments.”An Australia v New Zealand final will again be expected, but Von Bertouch’s memory doesn’t allow her to get cocky.

“I remember well the 2010 Commonwealth Games when we played England in the semis to get into the final,” she recounts.

“And into the last quarter we were down. We’ve lost in the last couple of years, too. We don’t take them lightly at all, and everyone’s improving. We’ve got to be on the ball.”

 

Netball fever growing: UK ready for next step

Aussie netball captain Natalie Von Bertouch says the standard of English netball has improved since more Brits have moved to play Down Under.

But top England player Eboni Beckford-Chambers, 24, says they need to be paid to play in the UK if they’ve any chance to match the top teams.

Beckford-Chambers plays for West Coast Fever in the ANZ Championship, where most players are paid. Her alternative is UK netball’s pinnacle Superleague, which has eight teams of unpaid talent in England and Wales.

“Some of the legends of the game in Australia are professional and rightly so,” the defender told the BBC, who will be covering the three-match series on Radio 5.

“Players like me aspire to be like that.”Participation in netball has increased 30 per cent in the three years since Australia last visited the UK and has received a boost in funding from Sport England.

International Netball: England v Australia,  Wednesday, January 23. 
Tickets £27.25  Wembley Arena, HA9 0AA  ticketmaster.co.uk 
Station |  Wembley Park,  Wembley Stadium

 

Photos: Getty