The New Zealand Hawks have taken out the bronze medal in the AFL International Cup, after beating South Africa by one point in the third place playoff.
The match came down to the final seconds, with a behind to Andrew Howison proving to be the final scoring act of the game.
In a contest that saw the lead swing back and forth, South Africa were unlucky to fade right at the end. However, the win was a testament to the grit and perseverance so often shown by New Zealand Hawks teams.
South Africa made the early running in the game, kicking the first behind and then the first goal from a snap shot. The response from the New Zealand Hawks came through the boot of Justin Clark, who slotted a set shot after marking.
Chris Mundell showed again why he is the preferred target man for the New Zealand Hawks, marking clinically and powerfully. He added another goal before the end of the quarter.
South Africa responded right on the siren, with a player marking over the pack to set up a shot on goal. At the first break, New Zealand led 2.3:15 – 2.1:13.
A much improved performance from South Africa over the 2nd quarter saw them open up a lead, kicking two goals in the period compared to one to Mundell for the Hawks. At half time the score stood at 4.2:26 – 3.3:21.
A grim struggle ensued in the third quarter, with the only scores managed a pair of behinds to South Africa. The stage was set for an intense final quarter, with both teams right in the game.
New Zealand struck first, with Nick Fisher kicking a goal from open play. South Africa struck back almost instantly, reasserting their advantage. Another South African goal followed, with the gap now 15 points.
However, the New Zealand Hawks fought harder than they had all tournament, with Sam McKenzie proving to be an inspirational figure in the forward line. His first goal came after ducking and weaving through defenders to poke the ball through, his next came from a nerveless set shot. Suddenly, the gap was three points, and New Zealand was playing the game entirely in South Africa’s defensive zone.
A behind narrowed the gap to two points, before Justin Clark had an opportunity to take the lead. His set shot hit the post, which meant the lead was now only one. Another behind soon followed, with the scores level heading into the final minutes.
Captain Andrew Howison stepped up and made sure the Hawks won by any means necessary, somehow managing to get a kick away on the run for a behind and a precious one point lead.
With only seconds remaining, the Hawks managed to run down the clock to secure a thrilling win.
Some courageous performances buoyed the New Zealand Hawks. Michael Boyce put his body on the line time and again, and Ben Miller played the the whole game at high intensity, despite breaking his collarbone in the 2nd half.
New Zealand Hawks: Mundell 2, McKenzie 2, Fisher, J Clark
South Africa: Moagi 2, Sobetwa 2, Zwane, Phakedi
Best and Fairest:
New Zealand: Boyce, Court, Howison, Harris, M Gregson, Miller
South Africa: Zwane, Sobetwa, Sikiti, Moagi, Mongiam, Dlamini