Cape Town - The South Africa men’s hockey team, who fielded six debutants, came within six minutes of inflicting their first Test match defeat on Ireland in more than a decade at Hartleyvale on Monday night.
Rio 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers Ireland recovered from a 2-0 half-time deficit and then 3-2 down to maintain an 11-match unbeaten run against South Africa that dates back to 1997. Chris Cargo nailed the final equaliser with six minutes left on the clock for Ireland to earn a 3-3 draw.
Lloyd Norris-Jones put SA in front in the sixth minute when he got a touch in front of Ireland goalkeeper Jamie Carr from a crash ball. Fellow striker Keenan Horne made the score 2-0 five minutes into the second quarter (20th minute) when he flicked home after picking up the ball in mid-circle.
Six minutes into the second half (36th), Kyle Good pulled a goal back for Ireland with a reverse-stick shot before finishing off after good work from Lee Cole for the 2-2 equaliser four minutes into the final quarter (49th).
Seven minutes from the end (53rd), Daniel Bell regained the lead for South Africa with a powerful penalty corner drag-flick into the bottom corner, but Chris Cargo ensured the entertaining match finished all-square just a minute later (54th) when he turned the ball over in midfield before surging forward and unreeling a great shot that rattled the backboard.
SA head coach Fabian Gregory praised the maturity of his young team.
“The boys played without fear. You have to earn respect and that's what they went out to do. I think half of the boys don't even know the Irish team.
"Seeing that we not going to the Olympics we might as well start building now for the future and the boys showed that they are eager and up for it. Overall I was pretty impressed with their performance.
"The boys would have loved to start off (the Hartleyvale Summer Series) with a victory; nevertheless their hunger and determination was exceptional.”
“I'm pretty chuffed," Gregory concluded.
The early game was a training match, with Spain edging Belgium 3-2.
The South Africans meet Spain in an official Test match on Wednesday (18:00).
SA line-up: Gowan Jones, Robin Jones, Daniel Bell, Rhett Halkett (captain), Dylan Swanepoel, Owen Mvimbi, Dan Sibbald, Jonty Robinson, Keenan Horne, Ryan Crowe, Lloyd Norris-Jones.
Rolling subs: Taine Paton (7th), Bili Ntuli (8th), Tevin Kok (9th), Reza Rosenberg (10th), Ryan Julius (10th), Alex Stewart (11th), Rob McKinley (did not play).