The outcome was an entertaining 2-2 draw in which both sides had their chances to earn maximum points.
The other results in this 12-team event saw South Gauteng Wits beat North West 5-0, defending champs Western Province Peninsula account for KZN Inland 3-0, underdogs Free State make a late comeback against 2014 silver medallists Southern Gauteng in what was an eventual 5-3 defeat, last year’s bronze medallists Western Province scored six without reply against Eastern Province, and hosts Northern Blues beat KZN Mynahs 7-0.
Pool A comprises WP Peninsula, who earned an historic first-ever title in Durban last year, Northern Blues, KZN Raiders, KZN Mynahs, KZN Inland and South Africa U21, who were given a special invitation in order to assist with their Junior World Cup preparations.
Pool B is made up of Southern Gauteng, Western Province, SG Wits, EP, Free State and North West.
Against SA U21, the KZN Raiders opened the scoring through a penalty corner by captain Matt Fairweather in the ninth minute. Ryan Julius equalised four minutes after half-time (34th) before the SA juniors took the lead via a Kyle Lion-Cachet PC in the 47th. Raiders levelled the match 2-2 in the 52nd when Greg Last powered a PC into the backboard.
The SA juniors missed a chance from the penalty spot and Raiders’ national goalkeeper Gowan Jones made a remarkable recovery save to stop a certain goal four minutes from the end. To be fair, the Durban lads also had first-half chances that got away so perhaps a share of the spoils was a justifiable outcome.
Raiders captain Matt Fairweather was reasonably pleased with his side and hopes they will continue to build on this solid start. “There is lots of work to do, but we had chances to win and we got much that was positive out of this first match.”
SA U21 head coach Garreth Ewing praised Fairweather’s performance, while also giving his own skipper, Alex Stewart the thumbs up.
“I think we were quite happy with a point on the first day, the guys were nervous so they're all feeling a little better now,” said the SA juniors mentor. “It was a good game, entertaining, but a little loose defensively by both teams.
“Our goal for the week is to compete in every game and to learn about playing together as a team. If we're in the shout for a semi-final that will be a bonus but it's not an expectation.”
Ewing appreciated the dynamism of the Raiders in their interchange. “Perhaps a bit too expansive, but they created lots of chances.”
SG Wits had too many options for a hardworking North West and the 2-0 half-time lead turned into a 5-0 whitewash by the final whistle. All five of Wits’ goals came from field play and were shared between Winchester Scott, Alridge Louw, Thabang Modise, Chad Burke and Brad Venter.
WP Pens were comfortable against a spirited KZN Inland and their cohesion was rewarded with two goals before half-time by Luthando Jonas (18th minute) and Ben Wiley (25th) while Jonas added a second 14 minutes into the second half (44th). Inland had their chances, in particular from penalty corners, but the Pens defence had the answers.
Southern Gauteng were outstanding in racing to a 3-0 lead inside 18 minutes and at 5-1 with 10 minutes left it appeared that Free State were on a hiding to nothing. To their great credit the Bloemfontein lads kept their heads and two goals without reply in those last 10 minutes was a due reward.
Nic Spooner (2), Gareth Heyns, Luke Sanan and Walter Pfaff got on the scoresheet for Southerns and Free State’s late goals came from Dylan Swanepoel and Kurt Hensburg.
Western Province, under new coach Steve Evans, who was the X-factor in Pens’ historic IPT triumph last year, had too much variety and creativity for a determined Eastern Province. The 3-0 half-time lead was doubled by the end, the WP goals going to Pierre de Voux (2), penalty corner drag-flick ace Dave Agar (2), Daniel Bell and captain Lloyd Norris-Jones.
The late game saw the Tuks crowd treated to some lethal penalty corner finishing by their Northern Blues stars, five of the seven goals coming from the set-piece. Grant Glutz nailed a hat-trick of PCs plus a field goal, captain Frankie Pretorius and Mark Holliday also netted from PCs, and skilful striker Richard Pautz scored from field play.
Monday’s match of the day is undoubtedly the clash between Northerns Blues and SA U21 at 6pm while the derby between Durban-based KZN Raiders and Pietermaritzburg-based KZN Inland, which starts at 11am, always fires up the respective teams.
Southern Gauteng versus EP at 2.30pm is another clash that requires no motivating the players.
The second-tier B Section tournament starts at St Albans College Tuesday.
KZN Raiders 2 South Africa U21 2; South Gauteng Wits 5 North West 0; Western Province Peninsula 3 KZN Inland 0; Southern Gauteng 5 Free State 3; Western Province 6 Eastern Province 0; Northern Blues 7 KZN Mynahs 0.
Tuks Astro: 09h15 SG Wits vs Free State; 11h00 KZN Raiders vs KZN Inland; 12h45 WP vs North West; 14h30 Southern Gauteng vs EP; 16h15 WP Pens vs KZN Mynahs; 18h00 Northern Blues vs SA U21.