Jonathan Cook reports from Potchefstroom
2nd Test – Inspirational Austin Guides SA to Victory
Superb South Africa men’s hockey team captain Austin Smith netted a hat-trick of penalty corners for the lads in green and gold to win a gripping second Test 3-1 at University of North West Hockey Centre in Potchefstroom Saturday after the scores had been locked 1-1 at half-time.
Smith was the heart of his team’s hard-fought win as he worked tirelessly from an unusually deep position to inspire his team to an unbeatable 2-0 lead in this four-Test series, this after South Africa had won the thrilling first Test 2-1 on Thursday evening.
The third Test takes place at 3 pm Sunday in Potchefstroom with the fourth Test at 7 pm in Randburg on Tuesday.
Smith’s first goal came in the 34th minute – a minute before half-time – for SA to draw level 1-1 at the changeover, this after Malaysia’s Faizal Saari had opened the scoring with a potent PC drag-flick in the 15th minute.
Smith’s second and third PC strikes came in the 54th and 70th minutes, the latter on full-time.
The PCs were shared 5-5 in a match that could have gone either way, but SA made their chances count. Indeed, SA had six PCs in the first Test without success and turned that disappointing statistic around with a 60% strike rate in the second encounter – an outstanding return.
SA went into the match without number one goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse (rested); vice-captain Rhett Halkett and fellow defender Ashlin Freddy – both missing their second consecutive Test matches due to injury; Tim Drummond (injured); while one of the first Test’s standout players, Clinton Panther (university exam) was replaced by his older brother, Brandon Panther, a new cap. Another Test debutant was striker Matt Botha while Taylor Dart won his second cap after coming into the first Test team just before the warm-up after medical advice had forced the last-minute withdrawal of Freddy.
The Malaysia line-up remained much the same.
For Malaysia, the likes of Nabil Fiqri, Faiz Helmi as well as the irrepressible Saari were thorns in the side of the SA defenders at various stages of the match and it must be said that the final scoreline was somewhat flattering. Smith admitted as much after the match while Malaysia head coach Paul Revington said the difference was that SA took their chances.
There was much “chat” between the teams and player after player was banished to the sin-bin after a slew of heavy tackles, body checks and sundry other misdemeanours, SA down to nine men at one stage.
All the SA players stood out in this match at one stage or another, and the victory was a triumph of true grit in the face of a highly motivated opponent.
3rd Test – Hykes Clinches equaliser 8 seconds from time
The South Africa men’s hockey team came back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to draw 4-4 with Malaysia in the third Test at University of North West Hockey Centre in Potchefstroom Sunday and clinched the series 2-0 with one to play.
SA had won the first Test 2-1 and the second Test 3-1 at UNWHC, while Malaysia desperately needed a win to give themselves a chance of levelling the series in the fourth and final clash at 7 pm Tuesday at Randburg Hockey Stadium.
Julian Hykes made the all-important equaliser for 4-4 with just eight seconds left in the match.
South Africa’s penalty corners were poor – just one of the six brought success – while a host of great combination plays were undone in field play when the final pass went astray just metres from goal.
In the first half Malaysia made the most of what came their way and went into the half-time break with a 2-0 lead. Against the run of play Fitri Saari worked some magic up the left-hand baseline with exquisite stickwork to set up Izwan Firdaus for the opening goal in the 27th minute, Malaysia having scored first in all three Test matches.
Two minutes later Malaysia stole away again and Faiz Helmi conjured up a fine piece of skill to open the way for Chua Boon Huat and it was 2-0 by the 29th minute.
In the first half, two of South Africa’s three penalty corners were botched at the stage of trapping the injection pass, while the only one on target saw captain Austin Smith’s effort glanced safely away by goalkeeper Rozlan Jamaluddin.
Three minutes after the break SA won a fourth PC but again it was fluffed and five minutes later Razie Abdul Rahim went on an unchallenged solo run to smash the ball from the top of the strike zone into the net for 3-0 after 43 minutes. Two minutes later, in the 45th, SA midfielder Taine Paton showed presence of mind to catch the Malaysian defenders unawares and finished with a cracking shot into the backboard for 3-1.
However, SA continued to miss gilt-edged chances in the goal zone, but they got it right in the 59th minute when Matt Botha’s assist was buried by Pierre de Voux for 3-2. SA’s fifth PC followed soon after and Ricky West’s effort was blocked by keeper Jamaluddin. Then in the 63rd minute Smith sent a stunning drag-flick from SA’s sixth PC high into the net for 3-3 with seven minutes left. Two minutes later (65th) captain Shahrun Nabil dived for a fine deflection goal and Malaysia were 4-3 up.
Three minutes from full-time Smith made a courageous run-in from the left channel and Hykes’ reverse-stick snapshot cannoned into the near post and stayed out. Then with eight seconds left Taine Paton made a courageous incursion from the same channel and got off a shot, which Hykes deflected into the net for a 4-4 draw and a series win for SA with one to play.
SA went into the match with Jacques le Roux the starting keeper, number one goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse on the bench and Gowan Jones sitting this one out. Vice-captain Rhett Halkett and fellow defender Ashlin Freddy, who both missed the first two Test matches due to injury, returned; Tim Drummond was still injured; Clint Panther was back after writing university exams on Saturday and his older brother, Brandon Panther, a new cap on Saturday, was rested, as was Nick Gonsalves. The Malaysia line-up remained much the same.