England head coach Jess Thirlby said her players showed a “lot of heart” to beat South Africa 58-54 in the Netball Nations Cup.
The win keeps the Roses’ hopes of reaching Sunday’s final alive.
England trailed at half-time but a number of changes shifted the momentum for the hosts and they controlled the second half.
“We were getting exposed in the first half and had to press the reset button,” Thirlby said.
“We spoke at half-time how we needed to play smarter but at this level you can’t just play with your heart, you have to play with your head too.”
The coach, who took over from Tracey Neville in October, added: “I’m really pleased with the impact the bench made in all areas of the court.
“I’m not making changes to share court time, I’m confident in the players, they are earning their right to court time. And they are taking their chances.
“Amy [Carter] has huge instinct on attack and has huge ability to win the ball. I was brave to bring her on but I have confidence in her and it’s like she’s been here longer than she has.”
Thirlby made two changes to the starting seven which lost 64-48 to New Zealand in the opening game, bringing in Fran Williams to partner Stacey Francis in defence, while George Fisher started at goal shooter.
The Proteas defended deep from the outset, with circle defenders Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius masterful in restricting passes to goal attack Eleanor Cardwell and Fisher.
It was a tactic England only countered when Amy Carter, who at 21 was assured and mature in only her second cap, came on at centre and Jade Clarke shifted to wing defence in the second quarter.
South Africa were also having plenty of luck splitting England’s defence as the hosts continued to make hard work of finding their shooters at the other end.
But cheered on by a buoyant crowd, England’s confidence grew and their error count dwindled as half-time approached, with the score 25-26 at the break.
Chelsea Pitman’s introduction at wing attack for the third quarter instantly gave England more dynamism and composure in attack, with captain Nat Haythornthwaite now playing at goal attack and Cardwell shifted to shooter.
It was now the world number three side’s turn to slice open the opposition’s defence with quicker passing and smart movement off the ball bamboozling South Africa.
Kate Shimmin – on for Williams – and Francis were busy making a nuisance of themselves, forcing errors and South Africa’s fluidity of the first half deserted them.
The game was finely poised with England five goals ahead at 42-37 heading into the final quarter.
And the hosts weathered a tetchy final period to close out the win and set up a mouth-watering contest with Jamaica at London’s Copper Box on Saturday, with the winner earning a place in the final against New Zealand on Sunday.
England starting 7: GK – Stacey Francis, GD – Francesca Williams, WD – Laura Malcolm, C – Jade Clarke, WA – Natalie Haythornthwaite, GA – Eleanor Cardwell, GS – George Fisher
South Africa starting 7: GK – Phumza Maweni, GD – Karla Pretorius, WD – Shadine van der Merwe, C – Rome Dreyer, WA – Bongiwe Msomi, GA – Lefebre Rademan, GS – Lenize Potgieter
New Zealand 71-45 Jamaica
World champions New Zealand ruthlessly swept aside Jamaica 71-45 to make the final of the Nations Cup, while the Sunshine Girls’ performance was reminiscent of their lacklustre showing at last summer’s World Cup, their confident win over South Africa on Sunday already appearing a distant memory.
Jamaica had the better of the opening exchanges but the Silver Ferns gradually seized control, especially through centre Shannon Saunders, who linked well with shooters Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Maia Wilson.
New Zealand lost their spark at the start of the second quarter as Jamaica rediscovered theirs thanks in the main to two aerial intercepts from defender Shamera Sterling.
But it didn’t last as a composed and merciless New Zealand upped the tempo to take an unassailable 10-goal lead at half-time (32-22).
Jamaica’s plan of attack, which proved so successful against the Proteas, was too one dimensional in this game, as they struggled to feed the ball past New Zealand’s clued-up defenders into 6ft 6in shooter Jhaniele Fowler.
Noeline Taurua’s side dominated the second half across the court, batting away anything Jamaica tried and the healthy 20-goal lead at three-quarter-time (51-31) afforded her the luxury of utilising her full squad.
New Zealand next play South Africa, who cannot qualify for the final, on Saturday to complete their round-robin games.