On a day when the national rugby teams of France and South Africa locked horns, it was also the day of the final battle between the two National Hockey Teams. It was the final test of a well contested series in which France led 2-0 after three matches. The match was also the 100th test match for French captain Victor Charlet.
And while the series may have given many positives there will be concern for Mark Hopkins and his coaching staff with how many opportunities are being created against them. Many of the chances arise when South Africa are in possession and there is a misplaced pass or an error. Fortunately, Gowan Jones and Rassie Pieterse were in fine form and Austin Smith, Jethro Eustice and Rhett Halkett consistently pulling off quality tackles when needed. Although South Africa will be unhappy with the four penalty corners they gave away, there will be a greater sense of satisfaction that they dealt with all four well.
There will be lots of positives with the amount of chances created but a lot of focus needed on finishing. The likes of Julian Hykes, Dayaan Cassiem and Bili Ntuli will not get 30 opportunities a match in India so it’s important that they find their range quickly. The trio, along with Nic Spooner, produced some great excitement in batches during the series much to the delight of the crowd.
In terms of this test match, South Africa trailed to a 12th minute strike from Etienne Tynevez and were forced to work their socks off in the second quarter. The third quarter was arguably their best of the series as wave after wave of attack was launched with Mo Mea orchestrating things down the right side. Tyson Dlungwana, Taine Paton and Bili Ntuli featured regularly as South Africa surged forward looking for an equaliser. They were unable to find it.
The fourth quarter was a bit more balanced, but it was France who would strike the killer blow with Charles Masson the man to confirm the victory. There was time for one goal for the home crowd to get excited by and it was delivered by national captain Keenan Horne deflecting in a shot.
After the game Mo Mea shared the following thoughts; “It was a good series and it was good to be playing competitive hockey in preparation of the World cup. We have had some great improvement and we are heading in the right direction. I would just like to say to the South African public, thank you for your support!”
Ultimately the South Africans would have been happy with the week. It was a first chance for this squad to train together against a well-coached and well-structured French squad. In Jeroen Delmee the French have an astute coach and were comfortably the better side throughout a tight series. The French now have a test match against Belgium before they head to India to take on Spain, New Zealand and Argentina in Pool A.
For South Africa the players now are left to look after themselves until the 20th when they will then fly to India. South Africa take on India, Belgium and Canada in Pool B, where they will be the comfortable underdogs. What was evident from the past 8 days is that they can at least count on the support of a major majority of the South African Hockey community.
Original image edited obtained from Marcel Sigg / Run Ride Dive