England won bronze at the Netball World Cup by beating South Africa 58-42 in their play-off match in Liverpool.
Tracey Neville’s side were aiming for gold on home soil but suffered an agonising two-goal defeat by New Zealand in Saturday’s semi-finals.
But the Roses, ranked third in the world, did finish with a medal – comfortably seeing off the Proteas after a cagey opening quarter.
New Zealand beat Australia 52-51 in a thrilling final later on Sunday.
England won an unexpected gold at the Commonwealth Games 15 months ago and although they could not match the elation of that moment, the home crowd were still delighted to see the Roses on the podium on the final day.
It also gave head coach Neville a positive send-off in her 70th and, as it stands, final match in charge before she steps down to concentrate on starting a family.
“When Tracey first came into this job it was a whirlwind, but to see her grow as a world-class international coach has been a pleasure,” said England captain Serena Guthrie.
“Today was about sending her off as best we could and we did that.
“It’s hard to keep it together when we have got everybody crying at the moment. This has been the best experience.
“We almost feel like we have won a gold medal because of how we have changed the game. These 12 athletes have been up against it from the beginning and I’m so proud of everyone. I’m lost for words.”
Roses bounce back from last-four agony
Neville opted for the same seven who finished the heartbreaking semi-final, with Nat Haythornthwaite rewarded for her fluid performance at wing attack in place of Chelsea Pitman.
The errors that cost England a place in the final were eradicated, with Jo Harten looking far more comfortable at goal attack, and partner Helen Housby finishing with 100% shooting stats.
It was a nervous first half but the Roses gradually became more confident and took a seven-goal lead against a fifth-ranked South Africa team, who were going for their first medal since they won silver in 1995.
South Africa’s colossal efforts in their own two-goal semi-final defeat appeared to have taken it out of them as defenders Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni, so clinical against Australia, were unable to contain England.
Proteas coach Norma Plummer brought on Surrey Storm’s Shadine van der Merwe at wing defence in an attempt to shore up her centre court and stifle the Roses, but the South Africa faded and the gap was too wide.
England lost only three quarters during the entire tournament and have now secured bronze for the third World Cup in a row, which goes a little way towards banishing the disappointment of losing their eighth successive semi-final.
The two coaches say goodbye
Neville announced before the tournament that she would be stepping down for personal reasons. She took the reins from Anna Stembridge in 2015, leading the squad to World Cup bronze in Sydney later that year.
It was her first major tournament at the helm and she had to deal with the personal tragedy of the death of her father on the eve of the event.
The former international shooter’s time will be remembered as being the first England coach to win Commonwealth gold in 2018.
“You talk about the journey and the rollercoasters – this tournament has surmised everything about this team,” said the 42-year-old.
“It was about finishing as the Roses because they know we’ll never play together again as a squad.”
When asked if she would be open to a return after her career break, she responded: “It was a difficult decision for me to hand in my notice, but it was the best decision for me at the time. I always want to come back to the Roses. I want to be part of this squad no matter what.”
Meanwhile, netball legend Plummer – a former world champion with Australia as both a player and coach – finished her stellar after the match – her 50th as South Africa coach.
The 74-year-old has overseen the Proteas’ rise up the world rankings, and as hosts of the next World Cup in Cape Town, Plummer leaves the team in good shape for her successor to win a medal at a home tournament.