Balsdon and Townsend secure opening Commonwealth Games victory for England

Townsend Commonwealth Games
England 2 (2)
Balsdon (PC, 11); Townsend (FG, 20)

South Africa 0 (0)

England cruised to victory over South Africa at the stunning Gold Coast Hockey Centre as they got their Commonwealth Games campaign off to the perfect start.

Goals from Grace Balsdon and Susannah Townsend were enough to secure the victory as England seek to win their first ever Commonwealth gold and give them the perfect boost ahead of this summer’s Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup.

It could have been even more if it was not for Phumelela Mbande in the South African goal as she pulled off a number of key saves in the first half.

Chances became less frequent as the game went on but England rarely looked troubled against the team who have finished fourth at the last two Games.

England quickly took control of the match early on, with Sarah Haycroft and Townsend forcing Mbande into two quickfire saves before she was called upon to keep out Sophie Bray’s reverse effort in the fifth minute.

But there was no stopping Balsdon’s corner flick six minutes later as the Canterbury player crunched the ball beyond the goalkeeper’s left foot to open the scoring.

The number two seeds then doubled their lead nine minutes later as Townsend squirmed a shot beyond Mbande after brilliant build up play from Ellie Rayer and Alex Danson down the right.

Captain Danson then forced the ‘keeper into another save in the 23rd minute before Maddie Hinch was called into action for the first time shortly after, kicking away a Shelley Jones cross following Emily Defroand’s superb charge down of a Dirkie Chamberlain corner.

South Africa’s defenders then showed great speed of their own to block corners from Hollie Pearne-Webb and Giselle Ansley in the third quarter as goalscoring opportunities became fewer and further between.

Indeed it was not until the 50th minute that ‘keeper Nicole La Fleur - a half-time substitute - was forced into action to save Bray’s cute touch on a wicked cross from Pearne-Webb.

Hinch then thwarted Chamberlain twice in the latter stages of the game - as well as showing great reflexes to save Jode Mayne’s deflection - to ensure her side kept their clean sheet and claimed all three points.

England next play Wales - who stunned India in the tournament’s opening game with a 3-2 win - at 10:30am on Friday 6 April.

England Starting XI: Hinch, Ansley, Balsdon, Toman, Pearne-Webb, Unsworth, Martin, Townsend, Hunter, Danson (C), Bray 

Subs: Tennant, Petty, Lane, Haycroft, Defroand, Rayer, Watton