The International All-Stars had played South Africa in five tests before last night, including the 6-4 win in the opening game of this year’s series, and had not tasted defeat. With World Cup winners Robert Tigges, Laurens Goedegebuure, Teun Rohof and Nicki Leijs, playing alongside South African superstar Austin Smith few would have given the SA Team much hope of snatching a result in these three games. Those few would have been right.
2016 could arguably be construed as the year of the underdog with the likes of Willis Curtis making the Wimbledon second round, Leicester winning the Premier League, Iceland and Wales shocking at the European Championships and Dustin Johnson winning a golf major. The South African Indoor side, expertly coached by Pierre le Roux, decided to add their name to the list of underdog victories with a sensational victory in the second match of the Greenfields exhibition series at UCT.
Robert Tigges, the Dutch national captain, started the scoring with a sublime goal to put the All Stars ahead and they looked set to continue their domination over the SA Indoor side when Laurens Goedegebuure showed striker like ability to put a penalty flick away. In the opening game of the series the South African side had wilted up front, but tonight they fought back and the most capped player in the squad, Dale Isaac brought SA back into it.
Austin Smith and Tigges then combined brilliantly but were thwarted by an exceptional save from Matt Becker, who is in an exceptional battle with Richard Curtis for number 1 keeper. Geoff Abbott then pulled off the perfect interception and coolly slotted home to the delight of the vociferous crowd. But just as SA brought themselves into the game, Tigges almost teasingly took it away by netting an unstoppable penalty corner.
What followed next would delight all of the kids in attendance as Brandon James, who was part of one of the most devastating Gauteng Gryphons side in his PSi career, decided to back the ludicrous talent that he has and took on Rohof before finishing past Goedegebuure for what was arguably the goal of the tournament. Brynn Cleak of Namibia and recent Varsity Cup winner for UJ, put the All Stars back ahead on the stroke of half time with a goal that was almost too good to describe.
The second half started in the same vein when the All Stars raised their game and Siyabonga Martins struck the cross bar after a fantastic deflection. Lungile Tsolekile, a Langa Hockey club legend, was then denied by a great stick save by Curtis. It really appears that Becker and Curtis bring the best out of one another. Ryan Julius, who was recommended highly by Tigges, another PSI product, having played with the Seals produced mesmerizing hands and levelled for South Africa again. But the All Stars poured forward once again and this time Nicki Leijs slid one past Curtis to re-establish the lead.
South Africa poured forward again spurred on by a packed crowd and really good performances from both the newest players in Julius and James and the most experienced in Isaac. A penalty corner from Isaac was saved for the impressive Jarryd Jones to slam home from the melee that followed. And with only 9 minutes left on the clock it was that man Isaac who popped up to establish the first lead for South Africa in the series.
The Dutch contingent, along with Smith and Cleak, poured forward and were only denied by a goal line save from Mo Mea before Goedegebuure pulled off what can only be seen as an unbelievable triple save. With the minutes ticking down and the All Stars pouring forward a penalty corner was one and lethal skipper Matthew Fairweather scored the goal that would mean the third match would be a decider.
The game management from the South African side was incredibly impressive in the final 10 minutes with some great defence on display showing the importance of the less “fun” aspect of the game. Although many may feel this is just an exhibition series, and it does not count for official caps, every player on that field played as if it was an official test as could be seen by the heart left on the pitch.
As South Africa continue to build towards the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup in 2018, these games can only help the team build and allows the increasing group of players to be exposed to a higher level of indoor hockey. Pierre le Roux will also have a healthy head-ache as players like Julius and James are putting their hands up for further inclusion. It’s a good problem to have!
The final match of the Greenfields Indoor series takes place after the PSi junior nationals games finish today at around 19:00 at UCT. It promises to be a thriller while we celebrate the spirit of Indoor Hockey.
This article was written for Pro Series Indoor (PSi) as part of the Junior Nationals festival. Check out www.psihockey.co.za for all the results, stats and more! All images are courtesy of the PSi Facebook page.