South African hockey PHL first day wrap

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South African hockey took its first step to a sustainable future with a competitive, not to mention entertaining, day’s play in the inaugural Premier Hockey League (PHL) at the Randburg Astro yesterday(Sat).

The PHL, SA’s first franchise-based tournament (12 franchises, six men’s and six women’s put together by draft system), is — with help from the ministry of sport and recreation — meant to strengthen domestic hockey. Yesterday, in stifling heat, the hockey delivered was as hot, intensity filled as it was skilful for teams who would only have seriously started training together this week.

This being the first day of a tournament which will be held every weekend this month (Saturdays and Sundays), it was difficult to point out front runners — form-wise — as some of the teams only start playing today. But the Mapungubwe Mambas, Blyde River Bunters, Maropeng Cavemen, Wineland Wings and the SA Under-21 men’s side, the Golden Gate Gladiators, laid down markers as teams to watch at least until the end of today’s fixtures.

Most impressive of the men’s teams were the aptly Mambas and the Cavemen, who beat the Addo Elephants 3-2 and the Drakensberg Dragons 2-1 respectively.

Having pushed off the first ever PHL match, the Mambas also scored its first goal, as early as the fourth minute through Brandon Panther in what was to prove a dominant first half for them.

Ross Hetem doubled their lead in the 22nd minute to give them what looked a comfortable 2-0 lead at halftime. The Elephants, who were not outclassed but missed chances and saw final passes go awry in the final 25m, burgled a goal back when Damian Kimfley bundled the ball into the back of the net in the third quarter.

This setup a nervy final quarter where the Elephants were the aggressors in finding the equaliser, through Ignatius Malgraaff, only for the Mambas to strike back with nine minutes left in the game.

Having failed to keep the Elephants at arm’s length, the Mambas dug deep and scored the winner, with Hetem scoring his second reverse-sticks around keeper Chad Burrheim.

The Cavemen, resplendent in orange, got themselves out of an ultra-competitive game by being clinical when presented with their chances, through a Cameron McKay tap-in and a penalty stroke by Lance Louw, and proceeded to protect their lead.

National team player Clinton Panther’s run had wreaked havoc for McKay’s goal, and the goal was celebrated by surrounding the latter in making a “fire”, caveman-style. By the time Mo Mea put the Dragons on the board it was too late to add a second to take the match into extra time.

The first women’s match produced something of an upset in that looking at who was coaching the vanquished Orange River Rafters, the legendary Pietie Coetzee-Turner, and some of the players on their roster (like national goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa et al), many would have jumped to the conclusion they were the better team on paper. But national team captain Nicolene Terblanche and her Blyde River Bunters blunted that theory.

They came back from Simone Gouws’wonder solo strike to score two quick goals in two minutes via Bianca Wood and Lauren Nina, also in the third quarter, to secure the win.

One of the initiatives the tournament seeks to achieve is to help the South African Hockey Association’s men and women’s under-21 sides with their preparations for their world cups in India (December) and Chile (November) respectively. To that end the women’s under-21 team, entered in the guise of the Namaqualand Daisies, found they may have some more work to do after wilting to a 4-0 defeat by the Wineland Wings.

The Wings were too experienced and too composed, scoring in both halves through Heather McEwan and Belinda Mentoor (twice) and Ilse Davids.

The Daisies’ men’s counterparts, the Golden Gate Gladiators, proved to be pups with bite by leading the ill-disciplined (two yellow cards) Garden Route Gazelles up the proverbial garden path with a hard-fought 1-0 win.

The goal was courtesy of the headbanded Ryan Julius, who beat Gazelles goalkeeper Richard Curtis reverse sticks on the stroke of halftime before the youngsters defended for their lives for a popular win.

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