South Africa’s women suffered a disappointing defeat of 2-3 in the third and final hockey test against Great Britain in Stellenbosch, South Africa on Thursday.
After their 3-1 victory on Wednesday in the second test in the Spar Hockey Festival at the University of Stellenbosch, the South Africans came out guns a blazing in the first half. Tarryn Bright was unlucky to miss from a penalty corner in the second minute, but 13 minutes later Lesley-Ann George drew first blood with a powerful hit – also from a penalty corner.
Within five minutes George found the back of the net again when South Africa was awarded another penalty corner.
Britain started to fight back and their efforts finally paid off five minutes before the half-time whistle blew, to make the score 2-1 in South Africa’s favour.
Goalkeeper Mariëtte Rix made numerous brilliant saves during the first half for South Africa, keeping Great Britain in tack.
In the second half, however, it was a whole different ball-game. Great Britain refused to hand over the victory and started to attack South Africa’s goalposts fiercely.
‘We were just not able to contain the pressure Great Britain put us under during the second half. They definitely came out harder than in the first half and credit must go to them for fighting back,” South African captain Marsha Marescia said after the game.
The visitors scored the equalizer from a penalty corner in the sixth minute of the second half when Sally Walton fooled Rix and the rest of the South African defenders with a perfect hit.
The rest of the half belonged to Great Britain, although South Africa had a few opportunities to score. Unfortunately for the home side they were unable to convert their penalty corners into goals.
Cathy Gillat-Smith scored the winning goal for Great Britain in the 13th minute of the second half from a penalty corner, to claim the match and test series for her team.
The positive side of the coin for the South Africans is an on-form Lesley-Ann George, last year’s national player of the year, who is back in the team after a few weeks of rest.
‘We are disappointed with the outcome of the match. I do believe, however, that we have improved our physical toughness and discipline during this series, although we still have a lot to learn. At least we have 18 months before the next Olympic Games to fix what is necessary,” Marescia said.
In earlier action, South Africa recorded a convincing 3-1 win over Great Britain in the Spar Hockey Festival at the astro turf complex of the University of Stellenbosch on Wednesday, thanks to splendid second half-control and the spark provided by their playmakers Shelley Russell and Sharné Bailey.
It was South Africa’s first win in six months.
Lisa Wooding scored right on half time for the visitors from a short corner.
‘We weren’t performing and Jenny (King, the South African coach) gave us a kick in the butt at half time,” Russell said afterwards.
‘I said to them this is the turning point. They must have the courage to do what they have to do and play with greater control,” King said about her message to the team during the break.
South Africa’s passing and control were very mediocre for much of the first half, and Britain benefited from the turn-over possession. Christa Cullen, Linda Clement and Helen Grant had strong first-half performances and threatened on attack with penetrating runs. Their pace worried the South African defenders.
Yet, South Africa took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half. They improved their passing, while the off-the-ball-running and the support of the ball-carrier were much better than in the first half.
The hosts attacked relentlessly from the 43th minute to the 49nd and it came as no surprise when the captain, Marsha Marescia, scored from the 4th short corner in six minutes.
Moments later, Marescia converted another chance to make it 2-1.
South Africa played with more assurance and freedom, and Henna du Buisson should have scored after a strong run on the left-side of the field by Bailey, who left three defenders stranded with a turn of pace and excellent stick control.
But Du Buisson was pressurized by the goalkeeper, Becky Duggan, who came off her line, and the South African striker could not execute her strike properly with an open goal mouth beckoning.
Russell had been a power of strength during the game with her raw pace and much-improved control. In the 67th minute, South Africa attacked on the right-hand flank and Russell ran more than 30 metres before beating Duggan with a beautifully weighted shot.
‘I can’t get the smile off my face. It is my first goal for South Africa,' said Russell. ‘And it is South Africa’s first win since beating India last year,' she added.
Danny Kerry, coach of the British team, said South Africa played with more assuredness in the second half. ‘We were too reactive instead of being proactive, and we allowed South Africa to make the play. They deserved the win.'
Britain won the first match by 2-1 on Monday.
The next test match for the South African women’s hockey side is against Ireland at 14:00 on Sunday at Coetzenburg in Stellenbosch.
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