South Africa made the semi finals of the 2019 Adina Polocrosse World Cup tonight with a 18-11 win over the UK but it wasn’t the most polished performance from either team in what was overall a fairly scrappy and low scoring affair. Indeed up until chukka 5 the average number of goals per chukka was just over 4 and it was the only one of the group games not to pass the 30 goal mark.
Both teams needed a win if they wanted to make the semi finals so the pressure was on as they took to the field for their evening match under lights at Morgan Park. The UK and South Africa hadn’t played each other before today since the world cup in 2011, which was match the UK lost by 1 goal in the last minute. Since then South Africa have won two world cups and the best the UK has managed was fourth but New Zealand had shown the other day that South Africa were beatable and so the UK and their fans felt there was a glimmer of hope if they played ther best.
The ladies sections took to the field first. Both Ladies sections so far have not looked the most assured in this competition. The UK Ladies have lost to both Ireland and New Zealand, while the South African Ladies lost to New Zealand but did beat Ireland by four goals in their opening match. However, it was the UK who got first chance to draw blood but couldn’t take it as Charlotte Pykett carried the ball on her first attempt across the thirty yard line. South Africa took the free throw and went down the other way but Caley Higgs was pushed over the back line by Emily Gilfillan after she regathered a long bounce. Those opening moments set the scene for chukka one and when the hooter sounded the scoreboard read 2-1 to South Africa.
The men took to the field and it was clear from the first line out that Jason Webb, who has been the UK’s standout player so far, meant business. He raced out the back of the first line out and stole the ball under the nose of Jannie Steenkamp. He did then something which is very rare for him and failed to deliver a good pass to Joel Sics, the ball was too low and try though he might Sics couldn’t grab it. South Africa turned it over and got it to Graham Maclarty who charged towards the other goal scoring area. However, Jason Webb also charged back and apppeared next to him just as Mclarty was attempting to regather his bounce on the 30 yard line. A combination of racquet and horse made sure Maclarty couldn’t get the ball and the UK got the free throw from the backline.
It was fairly end to end action and soon Maclarty was back in the scoring zone. Jason Webb guarded the goal well and when Maclarty went for the overarm goal Webb got his racquet to it, deflecting it wide of the goal and winning himself a 30 yard clearing throw, much to the delight of the UK fans. The rest of the chukka also saw Webb produce heroics, he grabbed another ball out the back and this time the goal was converted. However, South Africa also got some more ball and Graham Maclarty didn’t miss any more attempts as he scored two goals to make the overall score 4-2.
The third chukka saw more mistakes but mainly from the UK, they gave away ball and though some good defensive play at points in midfield frustrated South Africa and made them take longer to get through to the scoring area, when they did get there they scored, clocking up three goals in the chukka. The UK did also grab a couple of well worked goals with Charlotte Pykett pumping in a couple of big overarms and the chukka ended at 3-2, with an overall score of 7-4.
The men came back out and for once South Africa had changed their number 1. Graham Maclarty was taken off and Jannie Steenkamp put on the number 1 shirt. Travis Timm went to number 3 while Jannie’s borther Retief came into the number 2 shirt. The effect was immediate. Graham Maclarty is looking quite a precise player these days, he will often slow things down a little in the area when the number 3 is in there against him and then look cool, calm and collected while he shots his goals That approach hadn’t worked that well against Jason Webb who managed to stick pretty close to him, not giving him the room for a shot. Jannie Steenkamp took a more direct approach to getting past Webb; he got ball in the area, put in one big left hand turn and charged across the goal before powering a huge overarm through the posts. He then repeated this feat a minute later to stretch South Africa’s lead to 5 goals.
The UK did then mount a fightback. Jason Webb, Jono Keen and Joel Sics all grabbed ball in and around the line out and took it through midfield to set up some nice goals from Sics. South Africa did get another goal before the end off the chukka thanks to a body hit by Jono Keen on Jannie Steenkamp and the UK missed their final attempt at goal, after there had been some great passing play between all three UK men, in what was probably the best move of the match to that point. The chukka ended with the scoreboard at 10-7 in favour of Souh Africa.
The Ladies came back out and the UK made a unexpected switch. They pushed Annemieke Ward up to number 1 and put Charlotte Pykett back to number 3 with Kerry Bean in the number 2 shirt. Whether it was always planned or whether it was a final roll of the dice we will probably never know, whatever the reason it didn’t really help the UK’s cause. South Africa put through 5 goals while the UK got 2 goals in response. Natalie Maclarty won the race out the back and Jacquie Minaar banged in the South African goals to stretch their lead to 15-9 by the end of the fifth.
The UK men needed a big chukka and they did start with a free throw going into the area as the UK Ladies had won a penalty right at the end of their chukka. Joel Sics took it but he had Jannie Steenkamp back against him now, as Graham Maclarty was back in the number 1 shirt. Sics struggled against the big South African all match, who pushed him hard in the area, marking him closely and Steenkamp’s stick lashed out at regular intervals questing for the ball in Sics’ racquet. On this occasion though it was Sics regather that let him down, the ball came lose and flew out into midfield, for Steenkamp to chase and seize. However, he was clearly feeling the UK deserved a goal as he then managed to ride into the backend of Graham Maclarty’s horse, giving away a free goal to the UK for dangerous riding (editor’s note: Yes that’s right you can give away a free goal by riding into your own player). Another free throw into the area a minute later gave the UK another chance. However, this time the umpires adjudged Sics to have crossed too close behind at the same moment Steenkamp committed an illegal swing, resulting in a neutal line out which Steenkamp won.
The rest of the chukka saw three more South African goals and also another UK goal but there wasn’t to a be a big comeback or another shock result. There was to be one beautiful passing move from South Africa; Jannie Steenkamp won it out the back and seemingly without really looking threw a 20 metre backwards pass to Travis Timm, who then passed the ball on to Graham Maclarty to slot it between the posts.
Overall, South Africa definitely deserved their win but what will be more worrying for their fans is that they don’t look as good yet as they did four years ago. The UK made quite a few errors and if they hadn’t done so it could have been a much closer match. South Africa will be annoyed at how much ball they missed and the chances they missed, particularly early on, they did get better as the match went on but it still wasn’t completely vintage South Africa. They got away with it against the UK but against one of the other remaining top four teams they can expect those mistakes to be punished. They have Zambia next up in the semi finals in a repeat of the final from 4 years ago and that should be a very good match to watch.
The UK will be annoyed by their error count, the only player who really shown was Jason Webb, who at points looked like he might be good enough to single handedly pull off a miracle. They now face going straight into another match tomorrow in the bottom half of the drawer against the USA, who have been resting today. The UK upped their game against Ireland and they may well do so against the USA as well. The USA will believe they have a good chance though and it may well be a very close match. Whichever team wins that match goes into the 5th/ 6th play off, while the loser goes to the 7th/ 8th play off.