The Investec South Africa women’s hockey team were in unstoppable mood at the Royal Beerschot Hockey Centre in Antwerp, Belgium Saturday, beating Belgium 4-1 in the first of three Tests after leading 1-0 at half-time.
The SA goals went to Shelley Russell in the first half and Tarryn Bright, Sulette Damons and Dirkie Chamberlain after the changeover.
SA started strongly with incisive running from captain Marsha Marescia, Russell and Sulette Damons in particular, and it was impressive to see as the girls in green and gold were without world record goal-scorer Pietie Coetzee (study commitments), Lesle-Ann George and Lisa Deetlefs (injuries), which left 500 caps worth of experience at home.
The Belgians were in confident mood, having won the Champions Challenge II tournament in Vienna, while SA ended a disappointing fifth at Champions Challenge I in Dublin where they were widely regarded as the best team, having finished top of Pool A that included a 5-1 thumping of eventual gold medallists Japan.
The fast, bumpy turf didn’t deter the South Africans and Kelly Madsen, and Chamberlain came close before Russell backed herself and a powerful run through the left channel saw her reverse stick flick evade Belgian goalkeeper Nadine Khouzam nine minutes before half-time.
The Belgians were disappointed that SA keeper Mariette Rix was on hand to save from captain Charlotte Vos, Anouk Raes and Dorianne Meuwese during the match.
The game opened up markedly after the break and Cindy Botha hit the post, while Damons earned SA’s first penalty corner in a golden five minutes, from which Bright slapped high into the net (2-0).
Sulette Damons got in another shot and a strong driving run from Chamberlain set up Damons for 3-0.
Investec SA centre back Kim Hubach enjoyed a very good game against the physical Belgian forwards and Jade Mayne, Hubach and Kathleen Taylor all came close before Chamberlain got a touch on Lenise Marais’ initial shot from South Africa’s third penalty corner for a 4-0 lead.
Belgium continued working hard and were rewarded with a controversial penalty stroke, which was converted by Stephanie de Groof (4-1).
It was a good win for SA after their arduous 22-hour trip via Dubai and Amsterdam the day before.
Coach Pascal Kina spent time as a tactical consultant to the SA team before his appointment to the Belgian national side, and he will no doubt come up with a few ideas before the teams meet at 3 pm Sunday, while SA coach Giles Bonnet will likely have picked up a few tips for his team as well, so it should be another absorbing encounter.
The second Test is at 3 pm, pm Sunday.
* Corrections: Changed Cindy Brown to Cindy Botha, Pascal Fina to Pascal Kina