Eleanor Cardwell of Blackpool helps England to first victory in Vitality Nations Cup
Blackpool netball ace Eleanor Cardwell earned praise for her sharpshooting performance to help England to their first victory of the Vitality Nations Cup.
Bispham-based Cardwell, the goal shooter with Superleague champions Manchester Thunder, started the match and her accurate shooting received plenty of plaudits as England got back on track in the four-nation round-robin.
England Netball head coach Jess Thirlby was thrilled to see her charges "play smarter" to topple South Africa in the second half.
Thirlby opted to switch things up in favour of a young team in Birmingham, with George Fisher playing up front with Cardwell after both impressed in Sunday's opener.
England had trailed for much of the opening 30 minutes in a sold-out Arena Birmingham, going into the half-time break trailing by a single goal, but a resurgent third quarter saw them turn the match around and stay in the hunt for a spot in the final.
Thirlby said: "At half-time, there was a real response to play smarter, not just harder. There was a lot of heart and we needed a bit more head in the second half and I think we gave that.
“We tried a different line-up and to be fair to George (Fisher) and El (Cardwell), they’ve never started an international match that way around. They’ve very rarely played together."
Early exchanges were predictably tight, the lead switching hands regularly as offences dominated what was shaping up as a goal-to-goal match.
South Africa were first to open up a slight lead, taking a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But impressive persistence from England forced a series of turnovers, and with patience on the ball Thirlby’s side wrenched themselves back to within one at half-time, trailing 26-25.
The hosts picked up from where they left off after the break and took the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter, entering the last quarter with a 42-37 advantage.
Composure seemed to elude both sides as a series of misplaced passes and turnovers broke up the flow, with South Africa looking to stage a late comeback.
Razia Quashie was brought on to help shore things up at goalkeeper, helping the Roses to do just enough to wrap things up and put themselves in a strong position for a place in Sunday's final.
But first England have a match against Jamaica to navigate in London on Saturday if they are to book a place in the showpiece at the same Olympic Park venue.
New Zealand maintained their impressive form in Wednesday's other game, beating Jamaica 71-45.
But Thirlby believes that the Roses have what it takes to deliver. “I said coming into the tournament that ideally we want to get into these finals,” she said.
“We have every opportunity to do so. It’s going to be tough, with Jamaica's height in the back but South Africa pushed them the other day.
“Everyone was a bit critical of us against New Zealand but you saw the margin between New Zealand and Jamaica today, so I think it’s game on.
“We know what we have to do. We know we have to win ball and pressure it early, and we’ve got to be much more clinical in possession of the ball, keep minimising those errors.”