Scotland’s netballers have been set the goal of achieving a best-ever result as they prepare to take part in a Vitality World Cup which is tipped to take the sport to a new level.
The 15th staging of the global competition is set for an unprecedented profile, building on the prominence created by hosts England’s sensational last-gasp victory over the mighty Australian Diamonds in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games final.
Scotland have appeared in all but one of the World Cups, hosting in Glasgow in 1987, but after rising to seventh in the world rankings just five years after their debut Commonwealth Games appearance, again in Glasgow, hopes are going into this tournament at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena, which starts today and runs until 21 July.
Scotland have been placed in Group D for the first preliminary stage and open against Samoa today before a big clash with England tomorrow and then a clash with the dangerous She-Cranes of Uganda on Sunday.
Netball Scotland’s Chief Executive Officer Claire Nelson said: “Scotland’s rise on the world stage has been significant, and we cannot wait to go out and prove ourselves against the best of the best.
“The opportunity to showcase your team and sport to the world on a stage as big as this also presents an unprecedented opportunity for us to engage new audiences and inspire more women and girls to try netball, or to even just become more physically active.
“Scotland intends to not only deliver our best ever results on the court through our Scottish Thistles, but to also deliver a lasting legacy off the court that strengthens our sport for the future.”
The tournament will be shown in entirety on Sky Sports with the BBC picking up their coverage from the second phase onwards, with Hazel Irvine presenting.
The Scotland team will be led by Claire Maxwell of Strathclyde Sirens, the Scottish side that competes in the Netball Super League, and she is set to make her 100th appearance for her country over the weekend. At the other end of the scale, Emma Barrie, of the Scotstoun club, is poised for her first cap at the age of 17.
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 the Scotland skipper.
“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.”
Scotland played their first ever international against England in 1947 and, as they had no national kit, borrowed some from Essex Netball Club. The colours on that day were purple and that has stuck as the Thistles’ official first-choice uniform.
The Netball World Cup has been dominated by Australia, who are reigning champions and have won 11 in total. The Silver Ferns of New Zealand have three and Trinidad & Tobago were part of a three-way round-robin tie with the antipodean powerhouses in 1975.
The main talking point heading into the tournament is whether England’s Roses can back up their Gold Coast heroics and secure a first ever world title in front of a home crowd.