Eleanor Cardwell of Blackpool in bronze-winning England Netball team at Vitality Nations Cup
Blackpool’s Eleanor Cardwell helped England to bronze in the Vitality Netball Nations Cup with a thrilling 65-63 victory over South Africa at the Copper Box Arena in London.
The 25-year-old Manchester Thunder star has been a key player for Jess Thirlby’s side in this four-nation tournament, though England missed out on a place in the final after an agonising 70-66 defeat by Jamaica at the same venue on Saturday.
It meant the Vitality Roses had to settle for the third-place play-off, in which Thirlby’s side got out the blocks quickly and took a 36-29 lead at half-time.
But South Africa fought back to within one point after a strong third quarter, and then took the lead with mere minutes remaining.
However, England 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.”
England have become familiar foes of South Africa – this their sixth meeting in six months and the hosts’ fifth victory.
England have won both their encounters in this tournament and won the recent Test series in South Africa, when Cardwell was again prominent.
It was the influence of the new young core at Thirlby’s disposal which shone yesterday.
The future appears bright as George Fisher and Amy Carter again stood out in the early exchanges – before the inevitable South African fightback came as Lenize Potgieter and Zanele Vimbela combined well.
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.
The England skipper was delighted with her side’s determination and 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.”
New Zealand, who defeated England in their opening match, went on to triumph in yesterday’s final.