Shooter Jo Harten hailed England’s best performance in two years after they stormed into the Netball World Cup semi-finals with a comprehensive victory over South Africa.
Harten finished with 30 goals from her 33 attempts as Tracey Neville’s team turned a potentially difficult encounter into a 58-47 win to secure a last four meeting with New Zealand on Saturday.
It was a major statement from England against a team who had beaten them in their last meeting in January, denying them the Quad Series title in the process.
Harten said: “I’m really proud of the girls – I think it’s one of our best performances in the last two years.
“South Africa are like our bogey team – whenever we come up against them they take us down to the wire, and they beat us last January.
“We were really nervous going into that one because we really wanted to stamp our authority on the game. We gave them a lot of respect when we analysed them and we came out with the win.”
The need to win the game in order to avoid Australia in the last four had been somewhat mitigated by the Diamonds’ slender one-goal win over the New Zealanders earlier.
But Neville was clearly determined that her side should made a statement against their fellow unbeaten opponents, not least those who had denied them a second-consecutive major title.
England’s strongest seven started the match, and their surging start was encapsulated by Harten’s buzzer-beating long-range effort at the end of the opening quarter which brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
The South African cause was hardly helped by the early exit of captain Bongiwe Msomi, who hobbled off injured after seven minutes, and England finished the opening quarter 19-11 in front.
Harten’s accuracy continued through a second quarter in which England extended their lead to 31-20, and their almost unassailable advantage enabled Neville to begin making changes to her line-up with one eye on the last four.
Neville said: “Every day is a building day. We’ve not had long together with this squad so we’ve got to utilise these match opportunities to really work on the strength of what we’re doing.
“I think we were very clinical in that first quarter but South Africa are a great team and we’ve had some great battles against them, so we knew they’d keep coming back until the end.”
Strong defending from Geva Mentor stemmed a mini-revival from the South Africans, who briefly reduced their deficit to nine, and another long-ranger from Harten saw England pull away again to lead 43-30 at the end of the third.
Harten made way midway through the final quarter, her job done and her figures alone barely hinting at the impact she had made in turning a seemingly difficult fixture into such an easy and confidence-boosting win.