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Lethal Smith strikes twice

Less than two weeks out from the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, the South Africa men’s hockey team struck yet another psychological blow against Scotland at London’s national hockey stadium on Sunday with a comprehensive 3-0 win to earn the Investec Cup bronze medal after the score was 0-0 at half-time.

Jon Cook reports that SA captain Austin Smith, pictured, netted penalty corners in the 45th and 64th minutes while teenager Dan Sibbald complemented one of a host of inventive attacking moves with a well-taken goal in the 62nd minute.

The result augurs well for the Africans’ opening Commonwealth Games match, against Scotland, in Glasgow on 25 July.

It was a better SA performance than the 3-2 win over the Scots in Saturday’s last round-robin match, which was a physical encounter where the sin-bin was a game of musical chairs in the second half, the African champs slapped with five cards in total and the Scots two.

Yet Sunday’s match was not without controversy, particularly at the end of the first half when first-wave Jonty Robinson was removed from the penalty corner defensive formation due to what Welsh umpire Will Drury perceived as tardiness in getting ready for the set-piece within the 40-second rule, an inconsistency in this tournament where this law was loosely interpreted by the whistle blowers in the week’s earlier matches.

SA repelled three consecutive PCs in that period of play, where the score was still a precarious 0-0. Another match highlight for SA was goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse’s ability to maintain focus after long periods of inactivity to be in the right place at the right time for several superb saves.

SA should have wrapped the bronze medal up with their multitude of chances in the first half, but Scotland goalkeeper Gavin Somerville was in superlative form to keep his side in the game.

At the other end, SA were sound in defensive situations, limiting Scotland’s goalscoring opportunities, and as a group there were a host of notable tackles and interventions, notably by outstanding captain Austin Smith, Wade Paton, Jonty Robinson, Rhett Halkett and Jethro Eustice.

With defenders and midfielders providing the vital link, the SA forward line was smart in its running on and off the ball, with Lloyd Norris-Jones outstanding throughout, Lungi Tsolekile earning a number of penalty corners and Taine Paton continuing the excellent form he has shown in this event.

SA clicked in all departments ÔÇô through the defence, midfield and forward lines ÔÇô and the outcome was a series of intelligently constructed moves that had the Scottish defence groping in vain for answers at times.

Lance Louw, Robin Jones, Tim Drummond, Taylor Dart, Pierre de Voux, Miguel da Graca and Natius Malgraff consistently played their part during this tournament while reserve keeper Gowan Jones was always ready should the team need his services.

Non-Commonwealth Games players Louw, Dart, Da Graca and Sibbald all return to SA while those who for a number of reasons ÔÇô work and university exams the primary causes ÔÇô couldn’t make the Investec Cup period, Andrew Cronje, Julian Hykes and Clint Panther, join the team for the Commonwealth Games at various time this week.

The SA men meet Wales in unofficial Test matches at England’s training headquarters, Bisham Abbey, on Monday and Tuesday before leaving for Glasgow on Thursday ahead of an unofficial Test match against Canada next Saturday.

Picture: Ady Kerry