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Thrilling draw for SA

New Zealand came back from the dead to snatch a 3-3 draw against South Africa in the BDO Women’s Champions Challenge hockey tournament at Hartleyvale, Cape Town Thursday.

Victory for either side would have assured a place in Sunday’s final, but the draw left both teams needing to defend their unbeaten records in the final pool matches on Saturday.

South Africa got off to a great start. Another well schemed penalty corner variation saw Jennifer Wilson deflect the ball home for the first goal in only the second minute.

The hosts kept up the pressure, but New Zealand fought back and Kalya Sharland put them on level terms at the first quarter mark. Shelley Russell, who had scored twice against Azerbaijan earlier in the week, was causing havoc in the defence with her incisive running, and she set up the second goal two minutes later, winning the ball after a defensive error in the circle for Farah Fredericks to push it in.

The home team was not finished yet as captain Marsha Marescia then deflected in from a penalty corner in the last minute of the second half to see SA 3-1 ahead

As was the case against Azerbaijan, South Africa took their foot off the gas in the second period. Tall defenders Kate Mahon and Clarissa Eshuis were solid as the game seemed to be drifting SA’s way and with 11 minutes to play, the score was still 3-1.

The Black Sticks then earned a penalty corner but were denied by a brilliant stick save from ‘keeper Mariette Rix. They continued to apply pressure and a minute later punished a defensive error as Sharland found herself unmarked in the circle and fired in a quick reverse stick shot.

Seconds later Rix was again called on to make a save as the Kiwis forced another penalty corner.

Wilson was proving to be a tower in the defence, but relentless pressure from New Zealand as they strove for an equaliser saw them earn another penalty corner and this time Eshuis’s drag flick found the mark.

The locals protested that there had been a New Zealand foot in the process but Australian umpire Julie Ashton-Lucy awarded the goal after consultation with Irish colleague Carol Metchette.

With the momentum now fully with New Zealand, they attacked again and forced another penalty corner with just two minutes remaining. The pressure had borne fruit with the normally cool-as-a-cucumber Lenise Marais passing to an opponent. Eshuis’s flick was charged down by first wave runner Vidette Ryan. The ball hit her shin, and Rix made another fine save from the resulting penalty corner. Although SA did have another foray or two, they were much more the relieved team as the seconds ran out.

While South Africa and New Zealand are favourites to reach the final on Sunday, both need to at least draw their final matches on Saturday against Spain and Japan respectively in order to ensure this

South Africa: Jennifer Wilson (2nd minute), Farah Fredericks (19th), Marsha Marescia (34th)

New Zealand: Kayla Sharland (17th, 60th), Clarissa Eshuis (66th)