Johannesburg - With the Irish crowd in fine fettle, Ireland edged captain Lenise Marais’s Investec South Africa women's hockey team 1-0 thanks to Chloe Watkins’s 52nd-minute goal in their Champions Challenge match in Dublin.
The teams were deadlocked 0-0 at half-time.
South Africa had the better of the second half but Ireland were still a threat and with 18 minutes left the skilful Watkins brought the packed grandstand to its feet with a rasping reverse-stick strike off a loose ball that evaded an unsighted Sanani Mangisa in goal (1-0).
In the first five minutes Ireland made early inroads down the right under the guidance of strong midfielder Emma Smyth, while South Africa gave the home country some heart-in-mouth moments as the match shaped up well.
Ireland continued to exploit space, width and turnovers well but South Africa’s lively Jade Mayne brought a save in the 15th, while a great run and close control from Tarryn Bright could have paid dividends for the green and gold.
With eight minutes to the break, Mangisa made a fine double save including an initial perfectly timed advance off her line to snuff out a top opportunity before Ireland shot wide at the tail-end of a three-shot flurry.
Bright’s influence was again apparent when a rifled ball to Mayne induced an Irish body-check and SA’s first PC with 11 left, but Bernie Coston’s powerfully struck shot went just wide.
SA started the second half very well and Sulette Damons’s shot was blocked before South Africa won their second PC just four minutes after the break, Bright’s slap-shot saved by keeper Emma Gray.
It was pretty much all SA in the third quarter and Illse Davids’s angled shot brought a glove save from Gray before Izelle Lategan’s effort went over the crossbar.
Despite losing control somewhat, Ireland’s Watkins broke the game open with her match-winner and try as they might SA could not draw level.
The final quarter began with Shelley Russell’s athletic cross from the left just eluding Kelly Madsen’s stick. Further skill from Russell saw Lesle-Ann George’s effort saved by Gray.
In earlier matches India beat Wales 3-0 and Champions Challenge favourites Australia accounted for Belgium 4-1.