Southern Gauteng claimed the Greenfields Senior Interprovincial Nationals men’s title in the most emphatic manner with a ruthlessly efficient 5-1 victory over the SA U21s in the final at the Randburg Hockey Stadium on Saturday.
The greater experience of the Southern Gauteng team was shown by their tremendous composure in defence, the SA U21s certainly threatening more than the scoreline would suggest. Up front, the home team were clinical, with Stuart Spooner and Julian Hykes taking full advantage of what were no more than half-chances for their goals.
Both teams took a while to settle down in a nervy first quarter, that finished goalless, with just one short-corner to Southern Gauteng.
Spooner opened the scoring in the 21st minute with an impressive reverse-sticks shot from an angle, but there is such talent in this SA U21 side that it was not much of a surprise when they equalised moments later, the hard-working Matthew de Sousa setting up a short-corner and then managing to get the ball past the daunting frame of national goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse with a clever deflection.
But Southern Gauteng were extremely dangerous on the break and less than a minute had passed when they were back in front, Clinton Panther rounding the defence and flipping the ball back for Brad Venter to pop it into goal.
When Hykes was gifted the ball at the top of the SA U21 circle by a foolish mistake but blasted his shot over the goal, it went down as a potentially crucial moment as Southern Gauteng went into halftime 2-1 up.
But the mark of a champion team has often been described as the ability to lift their performance by a notch under pressure and Southern Gauteng did just that as they came out for the third quarter and blew the SA U21s away with three goals.
A strong run by Brandon Panther set up a short-corner, from which Gareth Heyns gave a perfect example of a drag-flick into the top right of the net.
Southern Gauteng then gave a masterclass in exerting pressure as they squeezed the SA U21s into the left corner, eventually forcing the defence to gift possession away. Clinton Panther pounced, found Hykes, who crossed for Brynn Cleak to slot the fourth goal.
A pinpoint, perfectly-struck reverse-sticks shot by Hykes in the 42nd minute brought the fifth and final goal.
Southern Gauteng, patient and composed, structurally aware and able to read the game so well, were the worthiest of champions.