NATALIE Haythornthwaite led by example as she guided The Vitality England Roses to a series win in South Africa.

The 26-year from Barrowford - named England netball captain for the first time - finished on a personal high after winning the best centre court award at the end of the final match thanks to her performances at wing attack.

While England were beaten 54-48 in the third of the tough three-match series, 58-63 and 53-59 victories in the opening two games had already wrapped up victory.

And the former John Fisher and Thomas More High School pupil was delighted.

“It’s been absolutely incredible experience at the start of our four-year cycle and I’m so proud that we got the series win,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, the crowd was incredible and South Africa brought it to us every single game. We managed to dig deep and can return home happy.

“Whenever you go up against South Africa you expect a hard game. Both England and South Africa gave everything right until the final whistle co credit to both teams. I think it sets up a very exciting Vitality Netball Nations Cup in January.

“The support has 100 per cent been felt by the squad. We’ve seen the videos, the tweets, Instagram messages, everything. We’ve really felt the love out here and it’s made it feel like home away from home.”

After victories in the first two games, the SPAR Proteas responded in the final encounter between the two sides with a 54-48 win at the Bellville Velodrome.

Their improved performance meant the series would end positively for Dorette Badenhorst’s side after losing the opening two games 58-63 and 53-59 respectively.

The match saw plenty of positives for the Vitality Roses including a debut for Kate Shimmin, improving combinations across the court and ultimately seeing Haythornthwaite lift the trophy.

Haythornthwaite, who made her Vitality Roses debut against Trinidad & Tobago in 2015, has accumulated 43 caps for England and was a part of the team that made history in the Gold Coast by winning gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The netball star who won back-to-back Vitality Netball Superleague titles with Wasps Netball before making a move to Australian club New South Wales Swifts last year, follows in the footsteps of Serena Guthrie who previously captained the team at the Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool, before announcing that she would be taking a year away from the court.

Head coach Jess Thirlby said: “It was a really proud moment for Natalie to be named captain, she’s been on an incredible journey with England Netball so far from age group to senior international, plus over the course of this last year she’s been really challenged with overcoming injury and winning the Suncorp Super Netball league and has developed both on and off the court.

“Natalie is well liked and a respected member of the team. She’s approachable, positive and knows what it takes to win. I believe she has developed more of the grit, robustness and resilience needed to lead on some of the biggest stages and there is more depth to her leadership now.

“She represents the values and behaviours we care about most as a Roses team and leads by example out on court.”

Of the series win, her first as head coach, Thirlby, added: “It’s an outstanding achievement by this team to come away from home with very little international experience.

“To have sealed the series in those opening two games in that fashion is an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated.”