SA hockey gears for Olympic qualifier
30 January 2012
The South African Hockey Association on Friday released the names of the national men's squad that will take on world number four Great Britain and top Dutch club Pinoke in Stellenbosch and Cape Town early next month ahead of an Olympic qualifying tournament in Japan.
The three-test series against Great Britain forms part of the South African team's preparations for the crucial Olympic qualifier in the Land of the Rising Sun from 26 April to 6 May.
Although South Africa has qualified for the Olympic Games as African champion, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee has decided that it needs to win the qualifier in order to go to the London Games.
Coach Gregg Clark's team will meet Great Britain in three test matches. The first Test takes place at the Hartleyvale Hockey Stadium in Cape Town at 19:00 on Friday, 3 February.
The British squad is made up of players from England, Scotland and Wales, with England supplying the majority of the players. The three countries play as separate entities in other international tournaments.
Clark is working with a larger squad than previously, so there are six changes from the South African team that lost 3-1 to India in a five-Test series in Delhi earlier this month.
While acknowledging the difficulty of taking on the world's fourth-ranked team, Clark said he is looking for improvements in a number of areas in the matches against Great Britain and Pinoke.
'Moving in the right direction'
"We are moving in the right direction in terms of structure and general play," he said. "I am happier with our penalty corner defence, but we still conceded four goals from 16 corners in Delhi, so there is room for improvement.
"The conversion rate on our own corners was reasonably high at the Champions Challenge in Randburg last November/December, but in Delhi we only scored one from 16, which is very poor."
Clark said the strikers are still leaving too many goals on the table, but added that it was exciting that the team was creating lots of opportunities, a sign that the build-up play was spot on.
Conceding soft goals has long plagued the South African team and while there were some in Delhi, there was an improvement nonetheless.
Unlike the Investec SA women's side, which has spent six of the last 18 months together and played around 100 test matches, the world number 12 national men's team does not have a major sponsor and as a consequence is probably the most under-prepared team in the world's top 20.
"There is a lot of quality in our team, but the fact we spend so much time apart means it is difficult to generate momentum and that brings added pressure, as we often have to go from one major tournament to the next with little in between," said Clark.
Rassie Pieterse, Lance Louw, Clint Panther, Thornton McDade (all Southern Gauteng); Andrew Cronje, Austin Smith (capt), Ian Haley, Lloyd Norris-Jones (all Western Province); Brendon Botes (Eastern Province); Justin Reid-Ross, Rhett Halkett, Jonty Robinson (all Northern Blues); Wade Paton, Lloyd Madsen, Gareth Carr, Tim Drummond, Marvin Harper (KZN Coastal Raiders); Julian Hykes (Amatole-Border)
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