The first weekend of the Premier Hockey League didn’t quite go according to plan for Cheslyn Gie, but the Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants coach is confident things will get back on track in the next round of matches this coming Saturday.
Last year’s finalists went down 4-0 in their opening match against the Pro-Grip Drakensberg Dragons. Then, in a repeat of the 2016 final, they just fell short against the defending champions – the Crossroads Maropeng Cavemen – losing 3-2 on Sunday.
To add to Gie’s worries, star SA national player Jonty Robinson injured his ankle in Sunday’s game and is in a race against time to be fit again for this weekend.
“We always expected it to be a tough start as we received two new marquee players in critical positions for the team. It took the players a game to get used to each other and we definitely started to gel and play better as a team by the second match,” explained the coach.
“I believe if we continue to improve we will be a threat for any team in the coming weekends.
“We were able to learn from our mistakes and the improvement showed in our second match against the Cavemen. The team’s fighting spirit is still as strong as in 2016 and this bodes well for the coming weekends.”
Asked what the Elephants will need to improve on before they tackle the second weekend of PHL matches, Gie reckoned: “We will have to improve our penalty corner defence, ensure we make more connections on attack and convert the opportunities we created. We missed two tap-ins against the Cavemen while we were leading 2-1. Scoring those opportunities would have eased the pressure and tension.”
The team’s first clash of the coming weekend will be against the SA under-21 side, playing as the iWYZE Golden Gate Gladiators.
“We had a great result against them in 2016 although the Gladiators have seen many changes to their team, so we are confident we can get a positive result against them. We are however aware that they have the potential to spring a few surprises as they pushed the Dragons all the way to a shoot-out on Sunday,” said Gie, whose team’s next challenge after the Gladiators will be against the Mapungubwe Mambas on Sunday.
“The Mambas have a very balanced team and from their performance the past weekend they have a lot of fire-power up front and we will have to do well to counter this.”
As for whether Robinson is likely to be part of the Elephants’ line-up at the Randburg Astro this weekend, the coach explained: “His injury seems very bad and we definitely missed him on the park in the fourth quarter. He will be seeing a radiologist to have a look at the injured ankle.
“I am still awaiting the results. Jonty is however very positive that he will be fit enough to play this coming weekend.
“If he can’t, his wealth of experience and calmness under pressure would be a huge loss for the team. However we managed well with him off the park when injured and I expect the players to step up if we should lose him due to injury.”
The second round of PHL action gets under way on Saturday morning at 8am. After the opening round, last year’s bottom team, the Drakensberg Dragons, are top of the men’s log with the Mapungubwe Mambas second, having played one game less.
Defending champions, the Blyde River Bunters, are top of the women’s log after two wins from their two matches. The Under-21 Namaqualand Daisies are second and while last year’s runners up, the Madikwe Rangers, are currently fourth, they have played one game less.
photos Marcel Sigg