29 May 2020 – Matt Lewis was a standout, highly skilled, all-round performer for Clifton in 2018 when the school went through the hockey season unbeaten before losing their very last game of the season, which he missed through injury. His contributions on the field throughout his Clifton career were eye-catching and memorable, leaving many predicting a bright hockey future for him. That future, however, is not in South Africa, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.
In 2019, Matt and his family moved to Australia with one of the primary reasons being to give him a chance to pursue his hockey dream.
Thoughts of moving Down Under started in 2016 when he went to Brisbane for a school exchange. “I just loved the country and the quality of hockey that they play at and I thought that’s it, we have to move here,” he said.
With his father, Terry, being an Australian citizen, and Matt a truly gifted hockey player, the family began to look into the possibility of the move. But grade 12 had to be dealt with first. “I wanted to finish school first as I felt matric was an important part of my life and I was extremely close with my friends,” Matt said.
“In 2019, the move began to Australia and my family is loving it here. My mom and I have just recently become permanent residents, which is awesome to have as there are so many benefits from it, and it gives us a sense of belonging here.”
Matt, who attended Clifton from grade R to matric, began playing hockey at the age of six at Riverside Hockey Club. It was the nature of team sport that captured his heart and a burning desire to win. “I have not looked back since,” he reckoned.
The foundation he received at Clifton was integral to his development, he said, citing very strong coaching from experienced coaches, which is “exactly what players want”. There was also a very important lesson to always be humble in striving for achievements.
At Clifton, Matt played in the first team from 2015 to 2018 and earned selection for the KZN Coastal and South African under-16 A teams in 2015 and 2016 and the KZN Coastal under-18 A side in 2018, when he was also chosen for the SA Schools B Team.
Missing from the above is 2017. That’s because Matt suffered a knee injury that needed surgery. It had been tough, but he wasn’t concerned that he would no longer be able to perform to the best of his ability. “I was more excited than ever to get back into hockey in 2018, I had absolutely no worry about my knee going into 2018 as I had done all the right rehab that would allow me to be 100 percent,” he said.
Inspirational captain leads Clifton basketball’s rise
Matt received the Hockey Player of the Year award from Clifton in 2018.
Blessed with good finishers and a gritty defence, Clifton put together a superb season under the guidance of coach Keegan Pearce, who Matt credited for helping him take his game to the next level.
They played 24 matches, won 20 of them, drew three and lost only their last game, when they had to play without goal scoring aces Matt and striker Declan Bradfield.
“The loss to Michaelhouse was a tough one to watch from the side line as I ruptured my ATFL ligament in an ankle,” Matt recalled.
But there were many highlights as the Clifton first team put up almost four goals a game on average, while conceding just less than one. Interestingly, during the season they played five schools twice – Saint Alban’s College, Uplands College, Saint Stithian’s College, Saint Andrew’s School, and Saint David’s Marist Inanda – and in every case won by a better margin the second time around, which showed progress and the ability to learn lessons from previous encounters.
Their three draws came against Cape Town powerhouse Bishops Diocesan College (1-1), a loaded Maritzburg College team (1-1) and Saint John’s College (2-2).
Maritzburg College, as a long-standing national power, was always a game that brought the Clifton team extra motivation, said Matt. So a 1-1 draw in Pietermaritzburg was a good result. Saint Charles, which has a lot in common with Clifton, was another game that the team always got themselves up for, he added, while Northwood and the Durban north derby was also a big one.
“My most memorable match of 2018 would probably have to be the 2-1 win against Northwood as they had a good side and I had a lot of mates in their team, so it was nice to get one over them.”
In May 2018, he was interviewed by KZN10.com’s Jono Cook, with whom he shared one of his goals: “Winning gold at [the under-18] IPT is another goal on my mind as I feel we, as KZN Coastal, have a very strong team to do so.”
In a tournament that underlined the strength of hockey in the province, the final came down to a showdown between KZN Coastal and KZN Inland, with Coastal coming away with the win. Mission accomplished, goal achieved.
A tale of two teams: the victorious KZN Coastal team celebrates after defeating their rivals, KZN Inland, in the final of the Under-18 Interprovincial Tournament in Pietermaritzburg in 2018.
His most memorable match ever with Clifton, he revealed, had taken place in 2016 on an overseas tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, two of the leading hockey-playing nations in the world. There, Clifton made the final of an under-18 tournament, where they faced the Polish national team in a game which they lost after a penalty shootout. “I had never seen so many people watching the game. It was just unreal,” he said.
In matric, Matt was selected to represent South Africa in the Africa Youth Games, which was another highlight in a career that had already included many.
Clifton recognised Matt Lewis’ achievements in hockey when he shared the 2018 Sportsman of the Year Award with William Dowsett and Todd Howard, who represented South Africa in waterpolo.
“I was extremely fortunate enough to go to a school like Clifton and I encourage every boy at Clifton to make the most out of it and wear the badge proudly,” he said in a message for the Clifton family.
With matric completed, the Lewis family made the move to Perth, Western Australia, which is a hot bed of Australian hockey. Matt explained: “The hockey system in Australia is just on another level and it shows in the results that the Kookaburras [men’s national team] and Hockeyroos [women’s national team] have achieved over the years.
Indeed, the Kookaburras have long been one of the world’s great teams, compiling a superb record that includes being the three-time World Cup winners, one-time Olympic champs, three-time World League winners, champions of the Pro League last year, and 15-time winners of the Champions Trophy.
“All the men’s and women’s national players live in Perth, so that they can train together. This means that the clubs will receive national players based on how many draft picks they have. This allows the competition to be extremely strong as you play against some of the best players in the world every weekend.
“The school boy level in KZN is stronger than here because all the hockey is played at club level here.”
The standard of play that Matt Lewis is facing in Australia is reflected in this photo of him in action for Hale Hockey Club: Matt is in possession, about to take a shot, and the man on the right is Matt Swann, who is closing in on 200 caps for Australia.
The fact that the move to Perth, which is known for having a large community of South Africa expats, went smoothly was a great help. “I knew only a handful of people coming over, but my dad knew loads of people who were his mates from school. I can’t thank them enough for making our move so easy.”
A smooth transition was also aided by former South African goalie Dave Staniforth and Jamie Dwyer, who knew about the Lewis family’s move and Matt’s hockey prowess. Not bad when one of the greatest to ever play the game is there to help.
Matt plays for Hale Hockey Club, which is coached by Staniforth. Last year, they made it to the league final where they were beaten by WASPS Hockey Club. In 2019, he was also selected to play for the Western Australia under-21 team that finished third in the Inter-state Championships. Sadly, those have been called off this season.
Another big feather in Matt’s cap was receiving an invitation to train at the Western Australian Institute of Sport where he got to spend time playing, training and conditioning with some of Australia’s best juniors.
Matt’s currently doing a Bachelor of Finance degree at Edith Cowan University, with his studies and hockey being his main focuses.
He has set his hockey aim high: “My long term goal is to one day play for the Kookaburras. It would be a dream come true as it has been a goal of mine for some time now.”
Matt Lewis on the run, taking the game to the opposition.
CLIFTON 1ST XI 2018
Clifton 7-1 Thomas More College
Clifton 9-1 Fourways High School
Clifton 6-1 DHS
Clifton 5-1 Saint Alban’s
Clifton 1-1 Bishops Diocesan College
Clifton 4-1 Uplands College
Clifton 3-2 Saint David’s Marist Inanda
Clifton 5-0 Saint Stithian’s College
Clifton 2-2 Saint John’s College
Clifton 5-0 Uplands College
Clifton 3-1 Nelspruit
Clifton 4-2 Saint Andrew’s School
Clifton 3-0 Saint Alban’s
Clifton 7-1 Trinity House
Clifton 2-0 Crawford College La Lucia
Clifton 4-1 Saint Charles College
Clifton 3-0 Glenwood
Clifton 2-1 Northwood
Clifton 1-1 Maritzburg College
Clifton 5-1 Saint Andrew’s School
Clifton 7-1 Saint Stithian’s College
Clifton 1-0 Helpmekaar
Clifton 3-1 Saint David’s Marist Inanda
Clifton 1-2 Michaelhouse
Played 24, won 20, drew 3, lost 1, goals for 93, goals against 22