In Tracey Neville’s last game as England coach, the Roses claimed their third successive World Cup bronze medal as they were too strong for the Proteas, who had to settle for fourth in the competition.
Backed once again by a vocal home crowd, England repeated a similar performance to the one they had produced against South Africa earlier in the tournament when they ran out 58-47 winners as Jo Harten and Helen Housby impressed.
Both sides entered the contest off the back of disappointing, narrow defeats, but neither team showed any signs of it affecting their play as the momentum of the contest swung back and forth in the lively opening exchanges.
Lenize Potgieter got South Africa off to a positive start, making her first five goal attempts and Housby, who started the game at goal shooter for England, also made a perfect start netting her first three shots as the score was 6-6 at the midway point.
As the quarter wore on, England began to force some turnovers from South Africa and as Harten settled into the game after missing her first shot of the contest, the Roses extended their lead to a many as four.
A turnover at the expense of Serena Guthrie, however, allowed South Africa to reduce the deficit back to one goal, but Harten scored her ninth consecutive goal of the quarter with just over ten seconds to go to give England a 14-12 lead.
The second quarter began with both sides showcasing their quality passing and movement as the ball moved quickly up and down the court. England were given the opportunity to build on their advantage when Maryka Holtzhausen missed her third goal attempt from seven and Housby made no mistake as England took an 18-14 lead.
England’s defence was continuing to force South Africa into errors and Harten and Housby were making them pay. The Roses’ lead was up to 23-16 at the halfway stage of the quarter after three straight goals from Housby.
The same pattern continued in the remaining minutes of the quarter as South Africa struggled to make any inroads into England’s lead, and it began to grow. Despite Potgieter keeping the scoreboard ticking for the Proteas, Housby (10/10) and Harten (5/5) were equally as good, scoring all 15 of their goal attempts as the Roses led 29-22 at half time.
South Africa coach Norma Plummer, who took charge of her 50th international for the Proteas, would have been looking for a response from her players as the second half began but it was England who started the better, scoring four of the first five goals.
Aided by captain Guthrie and Natalie Haythornthwaite, Harten and Housby continued to rack up the goals as England extended their advantage to twelve with four minutes remaining.
Potgieter and Holtzhausen both shot well for South Africa in the third quarter, but the Proteas’ general attacking play lacked consistency whereas England’s just seemed to get better. The Roses continued to build their lead and led by 14 heading into the final quarter.
The bronze medal was in the grasp of England as they began the final 15 minutes of the World Cup and the crowd knew it too ,as they created a party atmosphere as the final buzzer edged ever closer.
South Africa improved early on in the final period and began to force errors from England but any attempts to reduce the deficit were halted by Holtzhausen’s inconsistent shooting performance as she made just one of her opening five attempts.
England attacking duo of Housby and Harten just continued to shine and the host’s advantage continued to build. The Roses were much more relaxed and looked a different side from the one that had struggled against New Zealand.
As the clock ticked down, Neville began to make changes including bringing on goal shooter Rachel Dunn, who received an enormous reception as the home crowd acknowledged her and her bronze-medal winning team-mates.
South Africa’s Karla Pretorius said:
“What a journey it was for us. I feel like in this last game, we maybe didn’t play our own game, and it was because of the game they brought to us, so well done them – it was a great performance from them once again.”
England’s Rachel Dunn said:
“It was a close game yesterday, but there are close margins at the top of this sport. We were all a bit devastated yesterday, but we had time to deal with that and then today it was all about bronze. Everyone wanted to go out there and fight for it, and the girls put in an amazing performance and got that medal.”