With the Irish crowd in fine fettle, Ireland edged captain Lenise Marais’s Investec South Africa women’s hockey team 1-0 thanks to Chloe Watkins’s 52nd-minute goal after the score was deadlocked 0-0 at half-time on Champions Challenge day one in Dublin Saturday.
SA had the better of the second half but Ireland were still a threat and with 18 left the skilful Watkins brought the packed grandstand to its feet with a rasping reverse-stick strike off a loose ball that evaded an unsighted Sanani Mangisa in goal (1-0).
In the first five minutes Ireland made early inroads down the right under the guidance of strong midfielder Emma Smyth, while SA gave the home country some heart-in-mouth moments as the match shaped up well.
SA felt aggrieved at a penalty corner awarded by Japanese umpire Emi Yamada in the sixth; however the goal shot came to nought.
Ireland continued to exploit space, width and turnovers well but SA’s lively Jade Mayne brought a save in the 15th, while a great run and close control from Tarryn Bright could have paid dividends for the green and gold.
With eight to the break, Mangisa made a fine double save including an initial perfectly timed advance off her line to snuff out a top opportunity before Ireland shot wide at the tail-end of a three-shot flurry.
Bright’s influence was again apparent when a rifled ball to Mayne induced an Irish body-check and SA’s first PC with 11 left, but Bernie Coston’s powerfully struck shot went just wide.
Another Mayne goal shot came after a well-worked move but at the other end Yamada again incurred dispute after awarding Ireland’s second PC and then a third seconds before the half-time hooter – the SA defence stood firm.
Regular captain Marsha Marescia remains 299 not out having still to recover from a leg niggle incurred at London 2012. Her 300th Test match appearance may be reached next week. The icon’s absence brought to seven the major players missing from the team that did duty at the Olympics.
SA started the second half very well and Sulette Damons’s shot was blocked before SA won their second PC just four minutes after the break, Bright’s slap-shot saved by keeper Emma Gray.
It was pretty much all SA in the third quarter and Illse Davids’s angled shot brought a glove save from Gray before Izelle Lategan’s effort went over the crossbar.
Despite losing control somewhat, Ireland’s Watkins broke the game open with her match-winner and try as they might SA could not draw level.
The final quarter began with Shelley Russell’s athletic cross from the left just eluding Kelly Madsen’s stick. Further skill from Russell saw Lesle-Ann George’s effort saved by Gray and on eight left Damons shot wide with the keeper to beat. Then Coston’s shot resulted in SA’s third PC. However Bright’s slap-shot was repelled by Gray.
Lilian du Plessis and Quanita Bobbs made their debuts while George won her 175 Test match appearance.
In earlier matches India beat Wales 3-0 and CC favourites Australia accounted for Belgium 4-1. The late game will feature Scotland and USA. SA tackle USA at 7 pm SA time Sunday.
Investec SA team: Nicolene Terblanche (Northern Blues) Lillian du Plessis (Northern Blues) Lenise Marais (capt) (KZN Coastal Raiders) Kelly Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders) Sanani Mangisa (Southern Gauteng) Lisa Deetlefs (Southern Gauteng) Bernadette Coston (Southern Gauteng) Lesle-Ann George (Free State) Tanya Britz (Free State) Izelle Lategan (Free State) Illse Davids (Western Province) Shelley Russell (Western Province) Tarryn Bright (Western Province) Jade Mayne (Western Province) Quanita Bobbs (Western Province) Sulette Damons (North West)