Hockey: day of reckoning for SA and Belgium sides

2015-01-31 00:00

THE Belgium national squad and the Investec South Africa women’s ­hockey team have always had highly competitive Test matches in recent times. The current six-match ­programme over the last fortnight at Hartleyvale Stadium in Cape Town has been no different.

Both teams are focused on playing explosive, attacking hockey and the consequence has been four exciting clashes to date, while the last two Tests of this absorbing series take place at 12 noon tomorrow and 6.30 pm Monday.

As things stand the SA/Belgium ­series — which is taking place during the Town Summer Series of international hockey — is there for the taking.

The first Test was drawn 1-1, the second Test ended level-pegging at 3-3, the third Test went South Africa’s way 3-2. Thursday night’s fourth Test was also won 3-2, by Belgium this time. It has been that close.

High-noon Sunday is the day of reckoning.

Apart from the six Tests between Belgium and SA, the South Africans also played a four-Test series against Chile. The girls in green and gold drew the series 2-2, so it will have been a gruelling 10 Test matches in 13 days for coaches Kurt Cerfontyne and Sheldon Rostron’s charges by the time Monday is up. In that time the ­Belgians would have played six Tests.

In addition, both SA and Belgium have been involved in intense training sessions over the past fortnight as part of the longer-term build-up to World League tournaments, the South Africans going straight through to the World League Semi-Finals tournament in Valencia, Spain in June due to their world ranking of 11th.

One can forgive players in the Belgium team — and especially the South African girls — for having the thought of going home and taking a much-needed rest in the back of their minds Monday night, so tomorrow’s fifth Test could be the decisive clash of the series. If either of the two teams can pull off a win, they will surely be ­favoured to take the series.

One of the individual milestones of the SA/Belgium series has been ­Kokstad- and Epworth-schooled SA goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa playing in her 100th Test match — and a fine display it was during Wednesday night’s 3-2 victory.

It has been a long, hard road for Mangisa, who was in the team as the number two goalkeeper during the Beijing 2008 Olympics, then fell out of favour with the selectors. She then got back in the team, and was a ­standby reserve for the London 2012 Olympics.

She suffered a serious Achilles ­tendon injury that threatened to end her career and was out for months ­before getting back into the team for the 2014 Hockey World Cup in The ­Hague, Netherlands last June and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in ­Glasgow just over a month later.

It’s a tough job retaining your place as a goalkeeper in the current SA team. Phume Mbande, also schooled in the KZN capital, at Carter High, is one of the three other stoppers vying for contention.

But for now, Mangisa and the SA team will only be focused on ­high-noon tomorrow.

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