By JONATHAN COOK
Result: Tuks 5-4 Wits
It’s all happening at Maties Astro on a gorgeous day and I hope you’re all watching on SuperSport! The Mugg & Bean Marquee is pumping as much adrenaline as the players in Match 1 – which is effectively a quarter-final for Wits while Tuks need points too, as well as some morale-boosting form ahead of Monday’s much-awaited semi-final time.
Yes it’s Varsity Sports Hockey action at its best and the promise of a goal-fest looked good in the opening minutes but Tuks blew three gilt-edged opportunities inside 120 seconds.
Tuks Hockey Club standouts Bandile Splash Kunene, Onke Letuka, Grant Glutz and Stephen Cant were all instrumental in these sharp moves but Wits keeper Quinton Kernot made a slick save inside the three-metre area and defender Jaryd Thomas picked the yellow nut off a Tuks stick before making the coolest outlet to avert imminent, very real and very present, danger. The other goals that weren’t saw a shot cannon into the sideboard at the far post before miss-communication amongst the posse of Tuks goal raiders stymied the move.
In the fourth minute umpire Darren Hubach awarded a penalty corner to the University of Pretoria team and Grant Glutz fired low towards the far post, and Wits’ Jaryd Thomas got a stick to the rocket only to see the ball ricochet over the goal line.
With Tuks1-0 up, the demands on Wits mounted as this was effectively a quarter-final for the Milner Park boys, who are undergoing a restructuring programme and reformation under head coach Ricky West and Director of Sport, Adrian Stuart Carter and his hockey staff.
Midway through the first quarter Wits constructed a neat move down the right but let themselves down when a top-shot goal scoring chance went a-begging.
The action swayed to and fro throughout this battle for supremacy.
The match exploded in the closing moments of the first quarter when Wits livewire Thabang “Smiley” Modise was instrumental in Brandon James to work his wizardry (1-1).
Smiley Modise helped in Brandon James having the chance to equalise 2-2 with a turf-burning penalty corner (PC).
Onke Letuka played a role in Richard Pautz edging Tuks back in front 3-2 after quality build-up play near the half-time break.
Into the third quarter and Kamal Ramburuth-Hurt hurt shone in defence for Wits only to see Tuks come straight back for Onke Letuka to open a two-goal Tuks cushion (4-2).
Estiaan Kriek pulled off a majestic save for Tuks , Brandon James shot wide a little later in search of his hat-trick and all the while Tuks skipper Nick Stevie Berichon and fellow Maritzburg College product Kewan Harries kept doing the unsung hero work in their team’s cause.
Nduduzo Peabo Lembethe watched in disbelief as his PC went wide of the Wits goal before a superb Wits square pass was unfortunately undone when Josh Casaleiro saw his screamer fly past the wrong side of the post.
This thrill-a-minute muscle-up ignited to a new level at the cusp of Quarter three’s end the Pride of Krugersdorp Brandon James engineered a chance for Stuart Brown to edge Wits just a goal in arrears at 4-3.
Wits were one man short as leader Stuart Philip limped uncomfortably, but it didn’t matter at the time that the uncontrollable weapon (for opposition defences) that is Brandon James turned his marker insid- out and outside-in, in the confines of three square metres before Stuart Brown backed a brace with a cracker-jack goal-blast for 4-4 parity with 13 minutes left on the clock.
Wits’ spirits soared to fresh heights when the brave Jaryd Thomas as first wave defender ran down a Grant Glutz PC bullet to bring further credence to the contention that this young Witsies group are courage-personified – given the horror of their 10-goal Maroon-Wash by the unstoppable force that is coach Ashlin Freddy and his Maties Hockey warrior gods just 17 hours before.
Nduduzo Peabo Lembethe and Grant Glutz for Tuks, Joshua Casaleiro and Lukhanyo Salavu plus the irrepressible Brandon James for Wits made their presence felt – and Television Match Official decisions; Power-Play calls and more unfolded in the final eight minutes before Richard Pautz delivered his trademark razzle-dazzle in close confines to create another PC chance for Grant Glutz and the powerfully built Cordwalles Prep School product fired a shot that boomed into the backboard for Tuks’ 5-4 winner.
Game Over! Neither side deserved to lose what was for me one of the highlight matches to date of this fantastic Varsity Sports creation.
Photo: Thys Lombard