England netball head coach Jess Thirlby revelled in her side’s collective fight as they held off South Africa 65-63 in a hard-fought encounter to claim Vitality Netball Nations Cup bronze in London.
In a repeat of the World Cup bronze medal match last year, in which England also triumphed, Thirlby’s side got out the blocks quickly and took the driving seat with a 36-29 lead at half-time.
But, after South Africa fought back to within one point after a strong third quarter and then took the lead with mere minutes remaining, the Vitality Roses superbly weathered the storm to run out winners by just two points.
“At half-time we thought we’d done a good job, we had built a lead,” Thirlby said.
“We hadn’t been ahead at the end of the first quarter in any game so far this competition but today we managed to do it.
“We spoke at half-time saying that we can expect a fight back from South Africa but it was excellent seeing our players ride it out.
“I think it was a collective fight, everyone had to play a part. Turnover was hard to come by today so it was just a bit of a grind out.”
FT | 🏴 65-63 🇿🇦— England Netball 🌹 (@EnglandNetball) January 26, 2020
After an extremely tense final quarter, the Vitality Roses have seen off South Africa to secure third at the Vitality Netball Nations Cup 👏
The hosts will collect their bronze medal after the final 🥉 pic.twitter.com/3HiCfzfqFN
England, having missed out on the final following defeat to Jamaica on Saturday, have become familiar foes of South Africa with this their sixth meeting in six months – and the hosts' fifth victory.
And it was the influence of the new young core at Thirlby’s disposal which, in particular, shined on Sunday afternoon.
The future appears bright as George Fisher and Amy Carter again shined in the early exchanges – before the inevitable South African fightback came as Lenize Potgieter and Zanele Vimbela combined in the scoring stakes before pushing Dorette Badenhorst’s side into the lead in the final quarter.
It made for a tense ending but the experience of England captain and player of the match Natalie Haythornthwaite, earning her 50th cap, and Stacey Francis showed as they provided the steel to secure the win late on, and the England skipper was delighted with her side’s determination.
She said: “It was an exciting match. We dug deep, there was no way we were going to let that win get away from us.
“We’ve got seven leaders out there, we’ve got leaders on the bench too. I’m so proud of the team. Jess told us to improve game to game and that’s what we’ve done. I’m so happy to be a Rose.”