The Vitality Roses ended the three-match test series with a 54-48 defeat at the hands of the South Africa SPAR Proteas but, after two previous victories, went home having won the series 2-1.
The loss failed to dampen what has been an extremely prosperous series for England, who had beaten the hosts 58-63 and 53-59 earlier in the week, and a strong start to life under head coach Jess Thirlby.
With the series already won, the head coach tweaked her starting seven to give a debut to Kate Shimmin at goal defence and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis an opportunity at goal attack for just her second senior cap. After positive cameos on Saturday, Natalie Panagarry and George Fisher also came into the side.
Her opposite number, Dorette Badenhorst, made three changes to her starting line-up with Vitality Netball World Cup defender Zanele Vimbela coming in alongside Rome Dreyer and Ine-Mari Venter after an injury to Sigi Burger.
The Vitality Roses had already won the series but it was evident early on that both teams had plenty to play for. The home side had a point to prove and came out of the blocks with a high level of urgency.
South Africa subsequently started the scoring inside the Bellville Velodrome after Ine-Mari Venter made the most of an interception from goal keeper Phumza Maweni before George Fisher levelled.
Lenize Potgieter started the game at goal attack for the home team and her combination with Venter proved fruitful in the opening stages as they raced into a 6-1 lead.
The pressure from the South African defence, a constant throughout this series and during the recent Africa Netball Cup, kept the ball from entering their shooting circle at times but great innovation from Fisher and Drakeford-Lewis meant England still chalked up ten goals in the first quarter.
Thirlby has proven in her three games thus far that she is not afraid to make changes and the experienced coach did so again when she brought on Laura Malcolm for Panagarry at wing defence.
Malcolm, one of the more experienced players in this young side, immediately showed her quality with a stunning interception but her teammates could not make the most of the opportunity due to some more exquisite defending from Player of the Match Maweni.
After another change from the bench – Kadeen Corbin coming on for Drakeford-Lewis – England did manage to keep the difference at just six goals by the half-time whistle, drawing the second quarter 11-11.
Fran Williams was brought in alongside Stacey Francis in defence – a partnership which had worked so well in the opening game – and things started to tighten up for the Vitality Roses.
With some excellent work in the mid-court from captain Natalie Haythornthwaite, Corbin and Fisher were getting further opportunities and were making the most of them.
Just as South Africa were building up a head of steam, England went on a terrific run to score five consecutive goals to get within two of their opponents. The momentum had shifted and Fisher drew her side level at 35-35 with five minutes of the third quarter remaining.
By this stage in the game, the Vitality Roses had scored eight of the last 10 goals but South Africa were not prepared to let their lead slip for long and they were quickly 41-36 in front at the end of the third quarter.
The SPAR Proteas were in fine form during the remaining minutes of this enticing test series and had extended their advantage to 10 goals at one stage in the final quarter. With Potgieter now at goal shooter and a defence firing on all cylinders – making 31 turnovers over the 60 minutes – the hosts were able to secure their first win.
Thirlby brought on Eleanor Cardwell at goal attack and Panagarry at centre in a bid to change the tide, but the opposition stayed strong to win the game 54-48.
The Vitality Roses, led by captain Haythornthwaite, lifted aloft the trophy after the final whistle with Stacey Francis being awarded the Defender of the Series accolade on her return to international netball. Haythornthwaite also scooped the Best Centre Court award after three impressive displays.
With the tense three-match series at 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.
Vitality Roses starting seven: Stacey Francis (GK), Kate Shimmin (GD), Natalie Panagarry (WD), Jade Clarke (C), Natalie Haythornthwaite (WA), Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (GA), George Fisher (GS).
SPAR Proteas starting seven: Phumza Maweni (GK), Zanele Vimbela (GD), Shadine Van Der Merwe (WD), Rome Dreyer (C), Izette Griesel (WA), Lenize Potgieter (GA), Ine-Mari Venter (GS).