England led 17-11 after the first quarter but the South Africans came back strongly in the second to edge ahead 28-27. The third quarter proved decisive, England prevailing 19-13 to take a 46-41 lead and, although South Africa took the final quarter 13-10, England won by two points to take the bronze.
Tracey Neville, the sister of the Manchester United brothers, Gary and Philip, admitted it had been difficult for England to bounce back.
"We are absolutely delighted," she said. "We played really badly on Saturday and we had to pull ourselves together. It was hard because we were so deflated, but we knew what we had to do and now we are enjoying the moment."
The England captain, Fiona Murtagh, said her side had needed to dig deep when South Africa rallied in the second quarter.
"We focused when we saw them come back at us," she said. "We knew they were strong and determined and we had to keep them out." I kept making everyone aware of what was at stake and they responded fantastically."
The pre-tournament favourites, Australia, lived up their top billing by edging out the third seeds, New Zealand, 42-40 in an exciting final to take gold. Victory did not come easily for the seven-time world champions, though. They had to dig deep into their reserves before stopping the ferocious Kiwis, who made a magnificent comeback after trailing 24-19 at the half- way stage.
The win meant that Australia are able to maintain their stranglehold of the sport and add to their impressive record - they have won the world championship every year since 1991 and have lost just two of their 80 Test matches over the last six years.
In the rhythmic gymnastics, Erika-Leigh Stirton of Canada won all four gold medals at stake yesterday, raising her personal haul to five from five in the process.
Stirton danced her way to high nines in all her routines after winning the individual all-round title on Sunday. Malaysia won the gold in team events, the sixth medal category in the tournament.
There was more joy for the host nation in the badminton, when Wong Choon Han came from a game down to beat his compatriot, Yong Hock Kin, to claim the gold medal in the men's singles.
In the men's doubles, Malaysia's second pair of Choong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah scored a surprise 15-7, 15-4 win over their No 1-ranked compatriots, Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock.
In the athletics programme, there was heartbreak in the opening event of the day when the New Zealander, Craig Barrett, saw a certain gold medal in the 50km walk disappear in a mist of pain just a kilometre from the finish line in the heat and humidity. It was reminiscent of the 1954 Games in Vancouver when Jim Peters, reeling from dehydration and heat stroke, fell 10 times before mistaking the marathon finish line 200 yards away and tumbled into his trainer's arms. Barrett only discovered that he had not won later in hospital, where he was treated for his dehydration. Malaysia's Govindasamy Saravanan walked past him to win Malaysia's first track and field gold of the Games.
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