Photos by Marcel Sigg
“Never underestimate the underdog” were the first words out of coach Shaun Hulley’s mouth as he left the field after his side’s stunning 2-1 upset victory over the 2016 women’s runners-up at the Premier Hockey League in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Having lost both their matches last weekend, the Orange River Rafters went into their game against the TopT Madikwe Rangers knowing they had to pull off a win to keep any semifinal hopes alive.
This knowledge, together with a good bit of inspiration from being tagged as the tournament underdogs, proved to be just what was needed to claim a 2-1 win.
Two goals from captain Sulette Damons were what did it for the Rafters. They took the lead in the third minute and extended that to 2-0, 20 minutes later. But the Rangers came back at them just a matter of seconds later when Sylvia van Jaarsveldt scored from a penalty corner. The Rafters then had to endure a period of sustained pressure but held on for the win.
In what seems to be true Rafters style, Damons was unwilling to take any of the credit for her brace. “It was a great build-up, really a team effort. I was just lucky enough to get in front and get the touches. So I don’t take the credit – they were definitely team goals,” she said afterwards.
“We are very chuffed. We knew it was a very important game and we needed to win it to get a lifeline in this tournament and we did it.
“The other team most probably thought they’ve got nothing to fear and were humbled. We knew we had nothing to lose, just enjoyed it and gave it our all. Every single one of the team did their part and that led to the victory,” added the captain.
Her coach echoed those sentiments. “It was a team effort and a better understanding of what we needed to do in that last bit. The press was better, closing the different zones was better, which is something that we lacked last weekend,” said Hulley.
“Being the underdog has given us a bit more freedom as well. I think playing against some of the teams we’re playing – it just shows you, no matter how many good players you have on your team, if you don’t play as a team, then you’re probably going to be found wanting.”
Meanwhile, despite having to overcome a “sleepy brain” for an early morning match, Private Property St Lucia Lakers captain Shelley Jones managed to lead her side to a 3-1 victory over the iWYZE Namaqualand Daisies, which included a brace from Kelly Reed.
“Definitely the Daisies put us under a lot of pressure and at one stage had six penalty corners in a row so we’re thrilled with our PC defence to keep that all out and very proud of the girls for putting in those last two goals at the end. We just persisted with what we were doing and finally we knew those goals would come,” said Jones.
“I think it was still very scrappy at times. I’d like to think that’s what an 8am game does – still a few sleepy brains – well, that’s my excuse anyway – but I think with each game we know each other a little better and hopefully are honing in on those connection and passes we need to make. I think we can look forward to a better performance next week,” she added.
In the men’s tournament, coach Krinesan Moodley said he believes to win the Premier Hockey League you have to concede as few goals as possible. So a stat sheet that shows 9 for and 1 against after two games, is something that has the coach of the Mapungubwe Mambas smiling broadly.
His side beat the Garden Route Gazelles 3-0 to put them in an excellent position heading into Sunday’s showdown with the 2016 runners-up, the Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants.
“It’s more about how few goals you concede rather than how many goals you score. It’s obviously a balance. Scoring goals is great for the team, winning games. But conceding one goal in two games at this level, playing against some quality strikers is important for us,” said Moodley.
The Addo Elephants celebrated their first win of the tournament with a 4-2 victory over the iWYZE Golden Gate Gladiators. They went 4-0 up before the under-21 side pulled two back with penalty corner goals. And in the final women’s match of the day, the defending champions, the Tivoli Blyde River Bunters kept up their unbeaten run by defeating the Wineland Wings 3-1.
PHL action continues at the Randburg Astro on Sunday, with all matches being broadcast on SuperSport.
2 December 2017:
Private Property St Lucia Lakers 3-1 iWYZE Namaqualand Daisies
Mapungubwe Mambas 3-0 Garden Route Gazelles
Orange River Rafters 2-1 TopT Madikwe Rangers
Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants 4-2 iWYZE Golden Gate Gladiators
Tivoli Blyde River Bunters 3-1 Wineland Wings
3 December 2017:
8am: Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants v Mapungubwe Mambas
10am: iWYZE Namaqualand Daisies v Wineland Wings
12pm: Crossroads Maropeng Cavemen v ProGrip Drakensberg Dragons
2pm: TopT Madikwe Rangers v Tivoli Blyde River Bunters
4pm: iWYZE Golden Gate Gladiators v Garden Route Gazelles