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All set for final!

The stage has been set for one of the most memorable finals in our hockey history when favourites Southern Gauteng face off with KZN Coastal Raiders at the SPAR Women’s Inter-provincial Tournament in Pretoria Saturday.

The Johannesburg-based Southerns under the exceptional South Africa captain Marsha Marescia beat Northern Gauteng Blues 3-0 in Friday’s first semi-final at the Tshwane University of Technology Hockey Stadium before the Durban-centred Raiders, led by 24-year-old England and Great Britain central defender Crista Cullen beat North West’s gallant young team 2-1.

“It was our most impressive performance of the week,” said Southerns coach Ryan Millela, while the Durban-based Raiders’ coach Lennie Botha said it was another solid performance from the team”.

Looking ahead to the final, both Marescia and Millela said they had great respect for the Coastals team. Cullen and Botha reciprocated the feeling.

Both losing semi-finalists had their chances — and Northerns actually scored a goal (video replays confirmed it) that was disallowed for being hit from outside the circle that would have seen them 1-0 up, but both last-four victors controlled most of the play.

Southern Gauteng trump card Pietie Coetzee, who is available again for the SA team, carried a hamstring injury into the semi-final, but left the field at half-time. Millela said the world’s former number one striker was “very doubtful” for the final. “Our physio Robyn van Ginkel will be working overtime on Pietie, but I am not confident,” he said.

Coetzee, scorer of three penalty corners and one field goal in three-and-a-half matches in Pretoria, is a major asset for a side attempting to win their first final since 2005 at the AB Jackson Greenfields Turf in Pietermaritzburg (she was in that team).

Not only is her rare skill a threat, her mere presence on the field is a psychological asset, as opposing teams worry so much about her it enables the likes of SA striker Roxy Turner the space to pour through.

Coetzee’s ability to hold the ball up front with her back to goal and release it to fellow forwards running into space would pose a real threat to KZN Coastals. Botha will be as relieved as his team should Coetzee not be up for the final.

That said, with the quiet confidence the Durban girls are displaying on and off the field, one can’t help feeling they would take on anyone without hesitation Saturday.

Their first SPAR Women’s IPT hockey title in 22 years is only 70 minutes away for this wonderful KZN Coastal Raiders combination (last time in final eight years ago) but 2005 winners Southerns are in their 18th consecutive title showdown and aren’t sentimentalists by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s going to be a cracker.