Who would play whom in the semi-finals was decided in the 30th and last game of the Pool stage, this after Tuffy Western Province beat Southern Gauteng 3-2 in which the latter stages of the match played out amidst a thunderous downpour.
That outcome sees Pool B winners WP meeting Pool A runners-up South Africa U21 at 4pm Friday with host province Northern Gauteng Blues - victors in Pool A - up against Pool B runners-up Southern Gauteng at 6pm.
In Pool B, the situation was straightforward. The outcome of the Southern Gauteng versus Western Province match determined who would finish first and second in the Pool.
Going into Thursday’s fifth and final round of Pool A matches, however, two of Northern Blues, SA U21, KZN Raiders and defending champs Western Province Peninsula were in with a chance of making Friday’s semi-finals.
In the 12.45pm match, the SA U21 team – playing by invitation to aid their preparation for Junior World Cup qualification – simply had to beat underdogs KZN Inland, and win they did - but just. And one Inland effort that hit the post might have changed everything.
It looked to be a walk in the park when this match exploded into life in the first 12 seconds, SA juniors striker Bili Ntuli finishing off a very slick move with clinical efficiency (1-0).
In the ninth minute KZN Inland’s Satchi Reddy hit the post from a penalty corner and a minute later the Maritzburg-based side equalised through Le-Neal Jackson from another PC (1-1).
Into the second quarter, and three great saves came in quick succession, two by SA U21 keeper Rob McKinley and another on the goalline by Inland defender Lee-Roy Storm.
The end-to-end action deserved tangible reward and in the 21st minute Maritzburg College schoolboy Amkelwe Letuka glanced in a pinpoint pass by captain Gavin Jelley from a penalty corner (2-1).
McKinley saved once more as Inland continued to breach the SA juniors’ defensive screen. The lads from the KZN capital were not to be denied and four minutes from half-time (26th) Damien Kimfley finished off a cross from the left in style (3-1).
After a bout of pressure in the strike zone by the SA U21 forwards, Inland broke out and Letuka called McKinley into action once again.
Turning around with a 3-1 half-time lead, Inland had the advantage in buckets but too many errors meant they had to tighten up at the back, although the same could be said of the SA juniors.
Four minutes after the changeover (34th) Jelley made it 4-1 to Inland. SA U21 pulled one back almost immediately (35th min) after a good finish by Ryan Crowe (4-2).
And on the cusp of the third quarter’s close (35th minute) Crowe scored his second (4-3) to leave SA U21 going into the last 15 minutes needing at least two goals without reply in order to advance to the semi-finals.
An Inland PC opportunity came and went, but in the final outcome it was the SA juniors who finished the stronger with fields goals by Stephen McManus (52nd) and Matt de Sousa three minutes from full-time (57th) to seal the lads in green and gold’s semi-final berth.
With the SA juniors now qualified for the last four, the other key clash to determine the remaining semi-final berth from Pool A saw Northern Blues needing to beat WP Peninsula, this after KZN Raiders had beaten KZN Mynahs an emphatic 9-1 in the match before.
The Raiders’ win meant that with a goal difference advantage of eight over Northerns, a draw would not be enough for the home province.
Northerns duly beat WP Peninsula 1-0 with a great finish by Richard Pautz in the 16th minute, but they made heavy weather of it.
The host province’s fans will be hoping for a more accurate performance come Friday’s second semi-final against Southern Gauteng at 6pm.
Thursday’s late game saw WP beat Southerns by the odd goal in five in a hot-tempered match, the 3-2 win coming after a 3-1 scoreline at half-time.
Keenan Horne, Jason Mulder and Wade Paton netted for WP and Migs da Graca and Lance Louw struck for Southerns.
KZN Raiders, who beat KZN Mynahs 9-1 through goals by Jarryd Jones (2), Greg Last, Jonty Robinson (3), Dan Sibbald (2) and Ryan Wallace, were left to look back at the dropped points in their 2-2 draw with SA U21 and 2-1 defeat by Northern Blues 2-1.
Mynahs, who had little left in the tank after their outstanding effort in drawing 1-1 with the SA juniors the day before, got on the scoresheet via Dale van der Merwe’s field goal in the last minute.
The earlier matches in Pool B saw Free State beat a strong-finishing North West 6-3 after leading 4-0 at half-time. The lads from Bloemfontein scored through Michael Baiden (3), Tiaan Weldenhagen and Kurt Hensburg (2) while Gertjie Lamprecht, Ruan de Jong and Stean Naude replied for North West.
Eastern Province recorded their third win with a 5-1 defeat of South Gauteng Wits. The EP goals went to Jason MacLachlan, Cerezo Comerasamy, Lyall Meyer, Dalan Phillips and Natius Malgraff. The SG Wits goal was scored by Jermaine Johnson.
In the second-tier B Section, SA Country Districts beat Namibia 6-4 while Eastern Gauteng beat Northern Cape 7-4.
A Section: Free State 6 North West 3; EP 5 SG Wits 1; SA U21 5 KZN Inland 4; KZN Raiders 9 KZN Mynahs 1; Northern Blues 1 WP Pens 0; Tuffy Western Province 3 Southern Gauteng 2.
B Section: SACD 6 Namibia 4; Eastern Gauteng 7 Northern Cape 4.
FINAL A SECTION LOGS
(All played 5. Goal difference, points)
Pool A: Northern Blues 10GD, 12 pts; SA U21 3GD 11 pts; KZN Raiders 17GD, 10 pts; WP Pens 1GD, 6 pts; KZN Inland -7GD, 3 pts; KZN Mynahs -24GD 1 pt.
Pool B: Tuffy WP 28GD, 15 pts; Southern Gauteng 14GD, 12 pts; SG Wits -6GD, 6 pts; EP 2GD, 9 pts; Free State -7GD 3 pts; North West -30GD, 0 pts.
A Section 08h00 KZN Mynahs vs Free State; 10h00 KZN Inland vs North West; 12h00 WP Peninsula vs EP; 14h00 KZN Raiders vs SG Wits; 16h00 SA U21 vs WP; 18h00 Northern Gauteng Blues vs Southern Gauteng.
B Section 09h15 Namibia vs Eastern Gauteng; 11h00 Northerns B vs Northern Cape.