Words by: Jonathan Cook
The South Africa men’s hockey team beat Canada 7-3 after the scores were locked 2-2 at half-time in the playoff for fifth and sixth place at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow late Saturday afternoon.
Photo credit: Stanislas Brochier
Still without the seriously injured Andrew Cronje and Jonty Robinson, world number 12 SA went into the match two players short on the all-important rolling subs’ bench, placing an extra burden on the remaining players, as has been the case for most of the tournament.
But two early shots on goal - the incisive Lloyd Norris-Jones brought a save from keeper David Carter before Clint Panther lashed a shot over the crossbar – set SA’s course. World number 16 Canada then won three penalty corners in succession – all this in the opening six minutes.
Gutsy SA defence kept them out but Scott Tupper will reflect on what might have been with his gilt-edged opportunity - and to rub salt into it the immensely strong SA midfielder Clinton Panther drove into the strike zone in the seventh minute for Lloyd Norris-Jones to pick up the loose ball and breach the goalline with an excellent shot under the shoulder (1-0).
Norris-Jones and Panther connected once again to win SA’s first PC and the variation back to Austin Smith worked a treat, the captain surely would have scored from the golden opportunity had he not lost his balance on what had become a very slippery surface saturated with rainwater. Norris-Jones then got in a shot and while the goal didn’t come, SA were now well and truly on top of the North Americans.
That changed after two or three SA defenders backed off Canada’s Taylor Curran as he stole around the left-hand baseline before slipping the ball past keeper Rassie Pieterse and it was 1-1 after 17 minutes.
SA won a PC soon after and keeper Carter did well to block Smith’s drag-flick, but Julian Hykes absolutely creamed his shot off the rebound and all but decapitated the hapless Carter. Thankfully the lower portion of the keeper’s protective headgear took the brunt of the force and the brave last line of defence resumed battle.
Hykes had a good chance shortly after, following a lovely through-ball from Norris-Jones but his backhand blast flew high and wide.
SA suffered a major setback when Norris-Jones was sin-binned for the last 10 minutes of the half and the African champions were now three players short, a parlous two on the rolling subs’ bench compared to Canada’s five.
SA keeper Rassie Pieterse made a top-class double save before a minute later (28th) Iain Smythe put Canada into an unlikely lead with a superb diving deflection goal to capitalise on a pinpoint cross from the left wing (2-1).
Smith vehemently disputed the refusal of the officials to allow for a video referral but SA had a chance a minute later to draw parity when Natius Malgraff put his body on the line to win a PC. However, the skipper’s drag-flick went wide.
Two minutes from half-time (33rd) SA defender Rhett Halkett fed the outstanding Panther, who drove with power and skill into the strike zone before getting a flick away, which Tim Drummond helped over the goalline (2-2).
Two minutes after the re-start (37th) Canada went 3-2 up when Gordon Johnstone fired in a PC drag-flick.
From nine minutes into the second half Jethro Eustice, in his 50th Test, and Smith, jointly let loose three successive PC drag-flicks but the Canadians were equal to the challenge.
But in the 49th, SA scored from their eighth PC after a net one-two variation finished off by captain Austin Smith (3-3). A minute later, keeper Carter made a terrific save from another Smith PC, which had been won by a determined Hykes.
With over a quarter of the match left, the courageous South Africans were running on adrenaline. An end-to-end move saw Julian Hykes win a PC before the men in green and gold were awarded yet another and the slip left to Wade Paton yielded immediate reward for SA to go back in front 4-3 in the 56th minute.
SA survived an awkward minute or two that included a Canadian PC before a determined run by Pierre de Voux earned a penalty stroke, with which Rhett Halkett made no error for a 5-3 lead with eight minutes left (62nd).
In the 66th, Lloyd Norris-Jones and Taine Paton got in successive shots before Julian Hykes slipped the rebound past keeper David Carter (6-3) and in the 68th the Canadian defence stood off Norris-Jones to allow the elusive striker the time and space to smash a shot from the edge of the strike zone bang into the backboard (7-3).