Change a starting line-up with care, says Tamsin Greenway

In this week’s column, Tamsin Greenway looks at the subject of starting line-ups after the Mystics significantly changed theirs for the start of their Round Five match in the ANZ Premiership.

Last Sunday morning, when I tuned into watch the Mystics against Tactix, I instantly noticed that there was something different about the Mystics’ line-up; no place for starting goal shooter Grace Nweke.

As I was on breakfast duty for the kids, it meant I missed the build-up and had no idea why she was not on court. So, I took to social media to ask if anything had been said pre-match, because at that point I figured she was injured.

I was told Helene Wilson, the Mystics head coach, had addressed the change in her pre-match interview. She highlighted she wanted to spring an element of surprise on the Tactix, as well as giving shooters Asher Grapes and Saviour Tui greater opportunities.

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Wilson also said she wanted her team to ‘step up’ and show they can do more than just rely on a long-ball into Nweke. In the first quarter of the match, they ended up scoring just six goals.

Now, as a head coach, I understand the need to have different options and plans. However, there are a few things which I would like to discuss about starting line-ups, because I believe you need to be very careful about when you choose to drastically change them.

By when, I mean at what point in the season, against which opponent, and at what point during a competitive match.

This particular change – Nweke being off and Tui partnering with Grapes – means the style of the Mystics’ attack-end completely changes. It shifts from having a target shooter to a rotating circle. Nweke is not replaced with a like-for-like option and the new style means Peta Toeava [WA] and Tayla Earle [C] have a lot more to think about.

Toeava and Earle are both extremely talented attackers, however they are learning their trade. With the amount of competitive game time that they have had so far this season with Nweke as their shooter, this new unit was not ever going to be as comfortable for them.

Toeava’s relationship and feeding of Nweke is effortless, and Earle’s is too. I speak from experience when I say that, regardless of whether not not they say it out loud, most players have preferences as to whom they like to work with.

Now, I’m not going to speak for Toeava or Earle in this case because both may be just as comfortable with Tui at shooter as Nweke, but I will give you an example from my own career to highlight what I mean.

When I was at Wasps and forced out of retirement due to injuries, it was not a secret that the connection I had with Rachel Dunn (through the many, many years that we had played together) meant it was a much tighter combination than the one I had with George Fisher.

This did not take away from Fisher’s talent or ability but we had had much less time training together, six weeks as opposed to 15 years. So, when it came down to the crunch, I needed to have Dunn there, to almost guarantee, the feeds and success.

The Mystics attack-end had been playing with Nweke up front and it had brough them great success. With her as a target, it’s a style that suits both Earle and Toeava so to suddenly change line-ups and styles in a competitive match, was brave.

To do it against Tactix was even braver. Why? Well, the Tactix are likely to be challenging the Mystics and the Pulse as they head towards the Finals Series. In making this change, which resulted in such a poor attacking quarter, it added to the Tactix’s confidence. Games can be won and lost on self-belief.

Watson and Fakahokotau are world-class defenders, plus with Charlotte Elley and Kimiora Poi supporting them out the front, they were able to keep the Mystics to six goals in 12 minutes. It set the tone for the rest of the game too, as the Mystics’ attack-end looked unsettled for large periods, even after Nweke’s introduction.

There was further discussion that maybe the Mystics did not start Nweke because they saw what had happened to Jennifer O’Connell and the Steel. I understand the thinking there, wanting a back-up plan for your starting shooter, but the reality is you cannot control injuries like that.

When your ultimate dream is captured. Today I took a trip down memory lane and was shown this little gem. 2004. First caps for me and @mydunnstagram Some familiar faces in this team too! Seems like another lifetime ago but the joy was real. 🤣 #netball #england #journey #southafrica

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When I was at Surrey Storm, we had one Rachel Dunn and for many seasons if we had have lost her then we would have struggled. So, I have always felt, you cannot play elite netball with one eye always on a potential injury. Yes, you want contingency plans, but I guess I would only ever turn to them if they were actually needed, especially during performance time.

As a team and as a coach, you know that if your main shooter goes down, and then your second does too, you will struggle. You would be hard pressed to find a team anywhere in the world has a ready-made, experienced third choice waiting patiently on the bench. Squads are not that deep and strong players go in search of game-time elsewhere.

I personally think that there are times to mix things up; mid-match to change the picture, or back in pre-season when you are preparing the team and checking all your options. During a competitive season and against a strong rival, you have to be really careful not to disrupt your momentum. Also, it’s vitally important not mess with an individual’s confidence level.

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When a shooter is taken off after 12 minutes, with the shooting end having only put six goals on the board, the player that’s taken off will need to be protected and managed. I know how it feels to experience that and you know, whether it’s said out loud or not, that it normally means you have not done a very good job. For a young shooter, it’s really tough to deal with.

Now, Wilson is an experienced coach. Sh has already done an amazing job with this group and will know that her team are ones who very much rely on confidence because of their young average age.

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