The Kookaburras have sewn up top spot in Pool A after overcoming a plucky South Africa 3-0 in their penultimate pool match of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Goals inside the opening eight minutes from Jake Whetton and Aran Zalewski, coupled with Blake Govers’ fourth goal of the tournament, secured another three points for the Kookaburras and put them out of reach at the top of the pool.
The Kookaburras were forced to be patient against a South African team that sat deep and relied on their speed up front to attack on the counter.
Two high quality goals in the first quarter set the reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallists on their way.
From in his own half, Jeremy Hayward sent a long high ball to Eddie Ockenden, who trapped it brilliantly to advantage.
The Kookaburras co-captain sent the ball across the goal face, it snuck past the closely marked Tom Wickham to a free Whetton who hammered the ball into an open net.
Four minutes later it was 2-0. A chain of passes saw the ball spread from right to left finishing with Govers in the circle who thundered a fierce shot on the reverse near the baseline and Zalewski deflected it in at the back post.
The flood gates threatened to open but South Africa stayed compact and had their own chance late in the first quarter, Nqobile Ntuli forcing a fine save from goalkeeper Johan Durst.
Nathan Ephraums turned on a dime before getting a shot away only to be denied by the post in the 17th minute, before Tim Howard diffused a threatening South Africa counter attack at the other end.
Hayward rattled the post with a drag flick before Durst was called into action again just before half time to ensure South Africa did not halve the deficit.
The third quarter was an end to end affair as South Africa continued to defend deep. Tim Brand found a free Govers at the top of the circle but he smashed his shot just wide.
Ephraums went close again and just when a third goal seemed to allude the Kookaburras, Govers stepped up to seal the result five minutes from full time with a trademark drag flick.
Josh Simmonds came inches away from adding a fourth at the death when his drag flick was deflected onto the crossbar.
“It wasn’t as free flowing as our last two encounters. South Africa sat back a little bit and we had to make the play through them…so we’ll debrief on it and move on quickly to our match tomorrow,” said Whetton.
“Some teams want to press us, some want to park the bus which is probably how South Africa thought they were going to beat us. It is good to play different styles of hockey…it teaches us how we can break through those zones.”
The Kookaburras play their final pool match against Pakistan, who with New Zealand and South Africa are all vying for a semi final spot, at 6am AEST tomorrow Friday 5 August.
Catch all the hockey from the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games on Seven and 7plus.
Commonwealth Games Australia website
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games website
South Africa 0
Kookaburras 3 (Whetton 4’, Zalewski 8’, Govers 55’)
@ University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash Centre
Kookaburras: 4.Jake Harvie, 5.Tom Wickham, 6.Matt Dawson, 7.Nathan Ephraums, 8.Johan Durst (gk), 9.Jacob Anderson, 10.Josh Beltz, 11.Eddie Ockenden (c), 12.Jake Whetton, 13.Blake Govers, 15.Josh Simmonds, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Aran Zalewski, 22.Flynn Ogilvie, 23.Daniel Beale, 29.Tim Brand, 30.Andrew Charter (gk), 32.Jeremy Hayward