It was the strangest of Test matches in Cape Town on Thursday, the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team looking like champions in the opening 20 minutes to lead 2-0 before Belgium came back to dominate the rest of this fourth encounter of the six-match series and win 3-2.
The series is now perfectly poised at 1-1 with two Tests to play – on Sunday at midday and at 6.30pm on Monday. Tests one and two between these evenly-matched sides were drawn 1-1 and 2-2 respectively with SA clinching the third Test thriller 3-2 on Wednesday.
There are back-to-back men’s matches, also at Hartleyvale, between Belgium and Ireland at 3pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. In the ninth minute of Thursday’s game, concerted SA pressure led to a second penalty corner and Lisa Deetlefs got off two successive shots before Dirkie Chamberlain picked up the loose ball and coolly flicked high into the net (1-0).
SA’s half-time lead was established in the 19th minute when Nicolene Terblanche’s long ball down the middle rebounded unexpectedly and captain for the day Sulette Damons was on hand to volley home (2-0).
However, that was where SA’s control ended as Belgium’s Jill Boon, captain Lieselotte van Lindt, Barbara Nelen and Anouk Raes began combining to such good effect that they were able to prise open space and with it the time to cause a bagful of problems for the SA defence.
Goalkeeper Hanli Hattingh made a series of excellent save and well-timed interventions coming off her line and there were impressive performances in particular by Erin Hunter, Deetlefs and the ever-consistent Terblanche, but SA couldn’t get the ball and when they did the Belgians quickly won it back again.
One minute into the third chukka (31st) Anne-Sophie Weyns netted in fine fashion for the Belgians to pull one back and in the 40th it was primary penalty corner weapon Stephanie de Groof’s time to pick her spot (2-2).
Three minutes from full-time, first-wave penalty corner defender Damons did exceptionally well to block a De Groof strike but the ball fell nicely for the series’ leading goalscorer to rifle a stunning backhand that rocketed high into the net for the Europeans to tie the series.
Investec SA: Hanli Hattingh (GK), Lisa Deetlefs, Erin Hunter, Christine Roos, Nicolene Terblanche, Illse Davids, Shelley Russell, Bernie Coston, Lilian du Plessis, Sulette Damons (capt), Dirkie Chamberlain. Rolling subs: Sanani Mangisa (GK), Nicole Walraven, Demi du Toit, Cornell Botha, Quanita Bobbs, Line Malan, Candice Manuel.
Belgium: Megane Simons (GK), Anne-Sophie Scheemaekere, Aline Fobe, Stephanie de Groof, Anouk Raes, Judith Vandermeiren, Emilie Sinia, Barbara Nelen, Stephanie van den Borre, Jill Boon, Joanne Peeters. Rolling subs: Aisling D’Hooghe (GK), Louise Cavenaile, Emma Pervez, Anne-Sophie Weyns, Manon Simons, Lieselotte van Lindt (capt), Caroline Wagemans. Umpires: Lyndal Robertson, Wanri Venter
Picture of SA captain Sulette Damons in action was taken by Matt Withers (Action Images)
REMAINING CT SUMMER SERIES FIXTURES
(All at Hartleyvale)
Friday – Rest day
Saturday – Men: Belgium vs Ireland (3pm)
Sunday – Women: South Africa vs Belgium (12 noon); Men: Belgium vs Ireland (2pm)
Monday – SA vs Belgium (6pm)
Tickets: R30. Gates open an hour before first whistle.