Not in this tussle were Western Province, last year’s champions, who had already assured themselves a place in Saturday’s 1pm final by Wednesday.
They continued their flawless run in Pool A with a comprehensive 8-0 defeat of a dogged South Gauteng Witsies who did everything in their power to concede as few goals as possible.
The big game saw Pool B hopefuls Northern Blues all but cement their spot in the final when they beat the impressive underdog, WP Peninsula, 6-2 Thursday.
It was Blues’ more assured skill in the strike zone that was the major difference, and if anyone has the slightest chance of beating Western Province it is the Pretorians.
The most hotly contested and controversial match was the KZN derby between hosts KZN Inland and arch-rivals 80-odd km down the N3, KZN Coastal Raiders.
Raiders had to win to stay within striking distance of Blues while Inland were determined to upstage their coastal cousins and in the process get points to avoid Saturday’s wooden spoon match.
The match was packed full of contentious decisions - and they were big game changers.
Arguably the fastest player here with stick and ball in unison is Inland striker Tevin Kok. In the 15th minute he burnt his marker down the left wing after being freed from deep by former Maritzburg College team-mate Tyson Dlungwana, only to be clearly upended in the strike zone.
To the utter disbelief of the vociferous home fans, who arrived in numbers during the game, the interference with Kok did not earn a penalty stroke or even a penalty corner. Soon after half-time the Raiders won the first of two penalty strokes - and one at least was not warranted.
In the 45th minute, Dale van der Merwe converted the Raiders’ second opportunity from the penalty spot, this after Steven McManus had finished clinically to open the scoring for the Durbanites in the 40th minute.
After the Raiders’ first effort from the penalty spot effort had been missed, Inland had a penalty corner strike saved on the goalline by defender Kelly Taylor-Stack at the other end – and this just about summed up the home province’s major problem, the inability to make their penalty corner chances count.
That said, Inland did get a rebound goal from a PC that was converted by corner injector Dlungwana, but at 25 seconds left in the match. Far too many in this match, and in every other Inland match, have been wasted.
Key matches in Pool B Friday see Raiders having the near-impossible task of beating Peninsula by eight clear goals to pip Blues for a berth in the gold medal match, while Inland and Eastern Province will be desperate to beat each other to avoid the wooden spoon affair on Saturday. In Pool A, South Gauteng Wits and North West also have wooden spoon concerns.
(matches in brackets, goal difference, log points)
Pool A: 1 Western Province (4) GD29, 12pts; 2 Southern Gauteng (3) GD1, 4pts; 3 Free State (3) GD-5, 2pts; 4 North West (3) GD-11, 2pts; 5 South Gauteng Witsies (3) GD-14, 1pt.
Pool B: 1 Northern Blues (4) GD10, 10pts; 2 KZN Raiders (3) GD3, 7pts; 3 Western Province Peninsula (3) GD-2, 6pts; 4 Eastern Province (3) GD-5 0pts; 5 KZN Inland (3) GD-6, 0pts.
WP 8 (Jordan Turnbull 2, Nqobili Ntuli 2, Dan Bell, James Drummond, Ryan Crowe, Ryan Julius) Wits 0; Blues 6 (Stephen Cant 2, Ashley Kemp, Jason Stiff, Tim Guise-Brown, Chris van den Berg) Pens 2 (Jamie Christians, Nick Price); Free State 2 (Qhayiya Jack, tbc) North West 2 (Ruan de Jong, tbc); KZN Inland 1 (Tyson Dlungwana) KZN Raiders 2 (Stephen McManus, Dale van der Merwe).
9am Free State vs Wits; 11am KZN Raiders vs Pens; 1pm Southerns vs North West; 3pm KZN Inland vs EP.