The heat will be turned up on the Silver Ferns inexperienced defensive line in their second Quad Series match-up against England.

The Ferns got their Quad Series campaign off to an indifferent start as they battled to an unconvincing 63-56 win over South Africa in Brisbane on Saturday night. New Zealand coach Janine Southby singled out her side's defensive effort as the key area for improvement after the Ferns struggled to unsettle the patient Proteas' attack.

With England boasting a powerful defensive end, led by the veteran star Geva Mentor, the pressure is now on the Ferns' on Wednesday night to match the ball-winning abilities of their rivals. That task is complicated by the need for Ferns management to build new defensive combinations.

Having lost three pillars of the New Zealand defence end in the space of 18 months through the retirements of Leana de Bruin (104 tests), Casey Kopua (101) and Anna Harrison (88), Southby is still working through her defensive options.

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Skipper Katrina Grant has the goal defence bib locked down, but who will partner her in the goal circle is still up for grabs. Jane Watson got the nod to start at goal keep in the first half against South Africa at the weekend, before 1.92m Magic star Kelly Jury was introduced at halftime. Both had relatively quiet outings.

That lack of defensive bite will be a concern for Southby as she looks ahead to the dangerous English team, who they will face four times over the next two weeks, and Australia.

But it is not just her defenders that are being called upon to improve. Southby wants to see a more committed defensive effort right across the court.

"Defensively I think we've got a lot of work to do. We were slow and we chased a lot and that's certainly not what we were planning to do," Southby said.

"It was our first game for the season - it's a long season through to Commonwealth Games, but we know we need to be better and really lift our game to face England."

Grant was disappointed her side couldn't start their international season out on a more emphatic note, but she believes being forced to grind out a tough win over South Africa will set them up well for what is expected to be another tight contest against the visiting English side in Auckland on Wednesday night.

England, led by new Northern Stars' signing Ama Agbeze, overcame a muddled start and a 10-goal halftime deficit to push Australia hard in their Quad Series opener on Saturday.

The English gave the Diamonds a scare when they closed to within three goals in the final quarter, but ultimately could not land the knock-out blow despite being handed plenty of opportunities.

Grant said she expects the Roses to be smarting from that loss.

The results over the opening weekend respresent a marked shift in the scorelines from the inaugural Quad Series 12 months ago, when the Silver Ferns demolished England by 26 goals, while the Diamonds had a hefty 21-goal win over South Africa.

Silver Ferns midcourter Shannon Francois believes this year's series is shaping up to be the most competitive yet.

"I think the depth in world netball has definitely improved. The exposure England and South Africa players have had in the ANZ Premiership and also the Australian competition has helped them improve and those countries are really reaping the reward from having those athletes play in those tournaments," said Francois, who has been included in the Ferns leadership team this year.

"It's awesome to have a lot more competition and have these tight games, it's good for the sport."