Natalie Haythornthwaite

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 29: Natalie Haythornthwaite of the Vitality Roses in action during the 1st Spar Challenge, International Netball Test Series match between South Africa and England at Bellville Velodrome on November 29, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Reg Caldecott/Gallo Images)

The Vitality Roses were confirmed winners of the three-match test series with the South Africa SPAR Proteas with a 53-59 victory in Cape Town on Saturday.

England showed their quality to get over the line at the Bellville Velodrome as they did in a dramatic, close-fought win on Friday night which needed extra time to separate the two sides.

This was just Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby’s second competitive game in charge of the national team and her inspired changes throughout the fixture ensured that her side would walk away with another win.

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After leading by four in the first quarter, South Africa fought back to ensure it would be another tight contest but the substitutions coming off a strong bench, notably George Fisher at goal shooter, seemed to give her side the edge over the opposition.

Eventually, the visitors ended the match with a six-goal winning margin and Thirlby was pleased with an improved performance.

“The thing I’m most pleased with is the improved performance. I thought yesterday was a gritty, gutsy performance which started with us being a bit nervous. Today, I felt there was some real quick learning overnight both technically and tactically in what we needed to do,” she said.

“I anticipated South Africa starting with a strong line-up and I consider that to be their strongest seven so I’m really proud of how we approached the game tactically, our improved performance and the changes that had an impact.

“It’s great to arrive after game two having won both matches but we’re not done yet. We very much respect that third match and we have other things we want to achieve as well. We will always come out wanting to win but it’s great that we can with our heads held high having won the series.

The Vitality Roses were secure in the centre of the court with captain Natalie Haythornthwaite and Jade Clarke, both of whom were at the Vitality Netball World Cup in the summer.

The former was named Player of the Match thanks to her performance at wing attack and was proud of how her teammates responded so soon after being driven to extra time less than 24 hours before first centre pass.

“It feels like such a blur. I’m just so proud of the girls for being able to put on that back-to-back performance in less than 24 hours. South Africa came out hard. It was a really, really hard game and there was a lot of tired legs out there,” she said.

“It was more our mindset that allowed us to get the job done and come up against a strong side like South Africa. I’m so proud of the girls, they never gave up and I’m just glad that we’ve won today.

“We had so many players worthy of Player of the Match out there today like Kadeen Corbin and Stacey Francis. I’m just having really good fun out there with my teammates and my friends. I feel really lucky and am just enjoying it all.”

Haythornthwaite and her teammates will be back in action in the final game of the series against South Africa on Sunday at 11am (GMT) and will be looking to make it three wins from three.

You can watch all the action on Sky Sports or on their official YouTube channel with coverage starting 30 minutes before first centre pass.

When the tense three-match series comes to an end, South Africa and the Vitality Roses will face each other once again at the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in January. Tickets can be purchased for the series on home soil here.

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