England 45 South Africa 48
The stage was set long ago. As soon as the fixtures were published, the Quad Series was always meant to conclude on Sunday afternoon with two unbeaten sides – England and Australia – going head to head in a straight shootout for the title.
Best laid plans and all that. Having beaten New Zealand by a record 13-point margin last weekend, England were expected to breeze past South Africa on Saturday ahead of a repeat of last year’s Commonwealth Games final.
Tracey Neville’s side will indeed face their old foes in the final match of the tournament and they do still have a slim chance of lifting the Quad Series trophy. But they will do so having slipped up against the odds the night before, losing 48-45 to South Africa at London’s Copper Box.
It all means that England go into Sunday’s final game knowing they must beat Australia by at least five goals to stand a chance of lifting the trophy on goal difference alone – not impossible, but certainly improbable against the world No 1 team.
“If they can’t pick themselves up for another game tomorrow they aren’t world-class players so this is a test of character,” said Tracey Neville, England head coach, after the South Africa defeat.