Words: Jonathan Cook | Photo: Ady Kerry
Unpalatable defeats to England’s men and women was the upshot of the second day’s play in the Investec Cup at the national hockey stadium in London Thursday, leaving the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team and the SA men’s side with nothing on their minds but victory in the final round-robin phase Saturday.
The world’s 11th-ranked SA women, who outplayed then world number three England 4-1 at the Hockey World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands four weeks ago, effectively destroying their dreams of a gold medal, were their own worst enemies Thursday as a period of near-total dominance at stages in the first and second halves was not converted into the goals that would have effectively killed off England hopes once again.
The result was a 2-1 defeat, but all is not lost as victory for peerless captain Marsha Cox’s charges against minnows Wales in Saturday’s 4pm SA time match will ensure another crack at the full-time professional England side, now sixth-ranked in the world after The Hague debacle, in Sunday’s Investec Cup women’s event gold medal match, the title match kicking off at 6.15pm SA time.
The SA women, playing with just three on the rolling subs’ bench to Scotland’s allotted seven in round one on Wednesday, beat the full-strength Glasgow-based side 2-0, a team that have been in full-time training since April 3, this after two flights and a long time in airports to get to London on Tuesday.
The SA women are still without world-class striker Sulette Damons and highly regarded young midfielder/defender Quanita Bobbs, both of whom are writing unavoidable university exams, but the duo will be back for the Commonwealth Games that starts on July 23.
For the SA men, it’s been even more difficult. Still without four Commonwealth Games players due to unavoidable exams and work commitments, plus the unavailability for the foreseeable future of drag-flick goal machine Justin Reid-Ross due to work and personal commitments, as well as the late arrival of players in London for the same reasons, it was never going to be easy against the full-time, fully paid English players who, like their women’s side, live and train together daily at their state-of-the art Bisham Abbey headquarters in London.
Yet the nagging feeling remains – and is commented on regularly by seasoned observers here – just how good this SA men’s side could be had they, and head coach Fabian Gregory’s coaching staff, the same opportunities afforded to their English counterparts. This applies to a lesser extent to the SA women as well.
Sublime, yet too infrequent, patches of play hint at why seasoned punters make this observation. The SA men could well have beaten the settled Irish side instead of losing 4-2 on Tuesday. The well-honed English line-up overwhelmed an SA midfield in Thursday’s first half to conjure up five goals without reply. Not surprising when you consider that circumstances meant players had to play out of their regular positions. The second half was better, but the outcome was still a 7-0 defeat.
Saturday sees the SA men up against Scotland (at 10.45am SA time), a Scotland who deserved to beat fancied Ireland instead of drawing 1-1 Thursday. Scotland have been in near-full-time training, like their women’s side, since April 3.
SA will want to win Saturday, as they will meet Scotland in Sunday’s 10.45am third/fourth place playoff and again in their opening match at the Commonwealth Games on July 25.
Times are tough, but one thing never in doubt is the incredible spirit inherent in the guys and girls wearing the green-and-gold kit.
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