England avoided a shock home defeat by Uganda with a 50-46 win in their first match of the series at Liverpool’s Echo Arena.
The Roses took a nine-goal lead into half-time but an error-strewn third quarter allowed the She Cranes back in.
A resurgent Uganda levelled the score to 43-43 in the final quarter but Tracey Neville’s side held on.
“We made vital errors and we missed vital shots,” England captain Serena Guthrie said.
“But what a game!
“This is a different group with some new players and we’re just trying to get better and stick to the culture and values we’ve worked on in training.”
The Commonwealth Games champions’ healthy first-half lead was in part due to them restricting service to Uganda shooter Peace Proscovia.
But four missed shots at the start of the third quarter from the team ranked second in the world gave world number seven side Uganda the opportunity to cut the deficit, as Proscovia suddenly had more freedom and was landing her chances.
Neville, who was without a number of key players including regular skipper Ama Agbeze, Geva Mentor and Chelsea Pitman, handed a starting place to recalled 36-year-old shooter Rachel Dunn.
She also took the opportunity to rotate her squad, with one eye on next summer’s Netball World Cup, which takes place in Liverpool.
Guthrie said: “It was incredible to play here and we want to be in that final in eight months’ time playing in front of that crowd again.
“We’ve never had a target on our back before [after wining Commonwealth gold] and we’re getting used to it. We’re up for the challenge.”
The final two games in the three-match series take place at the Copper Box in London on Friday, 30 November at 19:00 GMT and Sunday, 2 December at 14:15 GMT, with live commentary from both games on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra.
England starting 7: GK Usuro-Brown, GD Guscoth, WD Clarke, C Guthrie, WA Natalie Haythorntwaite, GA Housby, GS Dunn.
Uganda starting 7: GK Nanfuka, GD Ajio, WD Namuwaya, C Nakachwa, WA Meme, GA Nanyonga, GS Proscovia.
Quarter-time scores: Q1 15-8, Q2 30-21, Q3 38-31, Q4 50-46.