The stage was set as the PA system blared out Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory and other patriotic songs in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The crowd had been whipped up into frenzy anticipating a home win, but South Africa had obviously not read the script.
A two goal-blitz in the first half gave the Springboks the advantage and in spite of a spirited second half display, they never really looked like surrendering their lead.
It took South Africa just five minutes to silence the crowd, a ball into to the D deflected off the defender’s stick, falling to Sulette Damons who hit a shot on the turn through Beth Storry for the lead.
With the crowd stunned into silence, the visitors doubled their advantage with a superb goal. A swift break down the right allowed Bernadette Coston to burst into the D and send a blistering shot high into the net, beyond a startled Storry.
Great Britain seemed to be finding it hard to get themselves into the match and were making a number of unforced errors. It seemed to be a case of trying too hard, if anything. Laura Unsworth was having a superb game, holding things together at the back, whilst Laura Bartlett up front was a constant thorn in the visitors’ side.
The Springboks seemed content to dig deep and allow their hosts to have the lion’s share of the possession for the rest of the half. Great Britain threatened in patches but were unable to make any clear cut chances, Helen Richardson and Susie Gilbert linked well, but found Mariette Rix in no mood to surrender her clean sheet.
Danny Kerry’s side emerged with renewed purpose in the second half. Nicola White and Laura Bartlett buzzed around up front causing a number of turnovers and not allowing the South Africans to settle on the ball, but still chances were scarce.
The vast majority of the half was spent with Great Britain knocking at the door, but being rebuffed by the visitors. Ashleigh Ball went close with a mazy run, culminating in a reverse stick shot which whistled over the top.
South Africa showed their potency on the break on 58 minutes, as yet again, the moved swiftly out of defence. Sulette Damons burst forward and found Pietie Coetzee on the baseline. Coetzee slid the ball to the back post where Jennifer Wilson, who of course plays her club hockey in England, swept home to make the score 3-0.
Great Britain continued to press as the rain got harder and time ran out. With 5 minutes left, they finally beat Rix: Captain Helen Richardson did well to manufacture a cross from close in and Susie Gilbert was on hand to deflect the ball home to give the fans something to cheer about.
Despite their frantic efforts to find another goal, the clock was against the home side, and the match ended 3-1.
South African coach Giles Bonnet was delighted with his side’s efforts today: “This was a fantastic win for us against a well-drilled, well-disciplined team. I’m pleased with the way we took our chances and i’m pleased with our defensive display. Our coaches have come in for a lot of criticism about the way we defend, so today is very pleasing.”
Great Britain’s Danny Kerry was understandably disappointed, but refused to get carried away: “They had 4 circle penetrations in the first half, three shots and scored 2 goals. They had, maybe 2 circle penetrations in the second half and scored one goal. South Africa deserve a lot of credit for their strong defending and taking their scoring opportunities but I’m pleased with the way the girls reacted. We went after the game well in the second half and created plenty of opportunities.”
When asked about the effect of his unavailable contingent of stars, Kerry refused to blame the result on their absence “Missing 25% of our Olympic squad [Sarah Thomas, Kate Walsh, Crista Cullen and Alex Danson] meant that this game was always going to be a tough ask, but the reality was that we still got enough chances to get a result.”
The hosts will aim to bounce back when they face Germany at 20:00 on Thursday. South Africa will hope to maintain their momentum as they face Germany, tomorrow, also at 20:00.