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SA undone by ‘terrible start’ as India reach semi-finals

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By Gary Lemke

There was no dream comeback and there will be no fairytale ending as the Commonwealth Games medal prospects of South Africa’s men’s hockey team came to an end in Glasgow on Thursday.

South Africa took on India with the winners earning a semi-final spot against New Zealand.  The losers would meet Canada for fifth and sixth position.

But it only took three minutes for India to earn their first penalty corner, which they converted, to take a 1-0 lead. Within a minute Rassie Pieterse was forced to made a quality save, but in the ninth minute Rupinder Singh made it 2-0 from what was already India’s third penalty corner of the game.

‘We had a terrible start,’ captain Austin Smith, the most experienced South African on the field playing in his 141st international, admitted afterwards. ‘The first half was very disappointing.’

It appeared that Taine Paton had pulled one back when he scored after having a swing and a miss, before making good connection with a second attempt, but the goal was disallowed after an India TV review declared his ‘freshie’ was dangerous and that the ball had struck the back of his stick. The irony for Indian sport is that they don’t want anything to do with TV reviews in cricket, but freely embrace it in hockey.

There was another frenetic period in the South African danger zone when Pieterse needed to make a double save and Smith himself was lucky to escape injury when a swinging stick missed his face by a centimetre or two. In fact, he even checked his nose for blood with a quick wipe of his fingers.

By the 22nd minute it was 3-0 and game over. Four minutes later it was 4-0 and South Africa were in danger of humiliation, with Rhett Halkett shouting at his teammates, ‘that’s enough for this half. No more!’ And that’s the way the half ended.

After the interval South Africa came out a different side and in the 42nd minute Paton – who was energetic all match – scored legitimately for 4-1. Immediately India went back on to the attack and forced their fourth penalty corner, from which Pieterse made his second smart save.

The captain, and top scorer for South Africa in the Games, made it 4-2, netting his third goal of the tournament, but in the 58th minute Manpreet Singh dived at full stretch to get a touch to a ball hammered across the area for 5-2.

The heavens then opened and the last 15 minutes were played in the rain, with three yellow cards being shown – two for South Africa, Tim Drummond and Lloyd Norris-Jones – as tempers began to fray.

‘They took their opportunities and were a better side than us,’ Smith said. ‘We were out of it after those first 20-odd minutes and there was no way back. In the second half we played a lot better, although India were able to take the pace off the ball and slow things down because they were in control on the scoreboard.

‘Looking forward beyond these Commonwealth Games, a lot of work needs to be done. I think it shows how far behind these top nations we are and it’s going to be hard to close the gap. It shows what challenges there are for hockey as a federation.’

South Africa still have a chance to end on a high when they take on Canada in the classification match for fifth and sixth, on Saturday.


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