South Africa recorded a convincing 3-1 win over Great Britain in the Spar Hockey Festival at the astro turf complex of the University of Stellenbosch on Wednesday, thanks to splendid second half-control and the spark provided by their playmakers Shelley Russell and Sharné Bailey.
It was South Africa’s first win in six months. Lisa Wooding scored right on half time for the visitors from a short corner.
“We weren’t performing and Jenny (King, the South African coach) gave us a kick in the butt at half time,” Russell said afterwards.
“I said to them this is the turning point. They must have the courage to do what they have to do and play with greater control,” King said about her message to the team during the break.
South Africa’s passing and control was mediocre for much of the first half, and Britain benefited from the turn-over possession. Christa Cullen, Linda Clement and Helen Grant had strong first-half performances and threatened on attack with penetrating runs. Their pace worried the South African defenders.
Yet, South Africa took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half. They improved their passing, while the off-the-ball-running and the support of the ball-carrier were much better than in the first half.
The hosts attacked relentlessly from the 43th minute to the 49nd and it came as no surprise when the captain, Marsha Marescia, scored from the 4th short corner in six minutes.
Moments later, Marescia converted another chance to make it 2-1.
South Africa played with more assurance and freedom, and Henna du Buisson should have scored after a strong run on the left-side of the field by Bailey, who left three defenders stranded with a turn of pace and excellent stick control.
But Du Buisson was pressurized by the goalkeeper, Becky Duggan, who came off her line, and the South African striker could not execute her strike properly with an open goal mouth beckoning.
Russell had been a power of strength during the game with her raw pace and much-improved control. In the 67th minute, South Africa attacked on the right-hand flank and Russell ran more than 30 metres before beating Duggan with a beautifully weighted shot.
“I can’t get the smile off my face. It is my first goal for South Africa,” said Russell. “And it is South Africa’s first win since beating India last year,” she added.
Danny Kerry, coach of the British team, said South Africa played with more assuredness in the second half. “We were too reactive instead of being proactive, and we allowed South Africa to make the play. They deserved the win.”
Britain won the first match by 2-1 on Monday. The two teams clash on Thursday at 19:00 for the decider at the same Stellenbosch-venue.