Bonnet inspires SA women to get their groove back

2010-09-10 00:00

IT started at the SA Women’s Interprovincial Hockey Tournament in East London two months ago.

The Investec South Africa women’s hockey team — or rather, a squad of players missing about a dozen regulars — had recently come back from three weeks of hell in Beijing.

I say “hell” because they had played 11 official internationals — one every second day — against world number three and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games silver medallists China amid gruelling training sessions lasting two or more hours every single day.

Not to mention mentally draining sessions when they talked about the game, where the team was going, what was expected of them, and so on, with new coach Giles Bonnet, who had only met some of them for the very first time.

The missing players were either playing in Europe for their club teams on the Continent or unable to get leave in what is still essentially an amateur sport in South Africa — yet they are up against highly professional, full-time hockey players who earn their living on the field.

South Africa were thrashed into the ground by the Chinese girls, who were intent on embellishing their world ranking and new-found status with at least a medal at the Hockey World Cup for women in Rosario, Argentina, in September.

Yet at the inter-provincial tournament in East London, when I nervously asked how the China trip had gone sportswomen can be jittery at times), the unanimous response was gushing enthusiasm at the excitement of rediscovering their appetite for the game under Bonnet’s guidance.

“Giles has brought something fresh; he dares us to try something new and fail, get out of our comfort zone, be bold, be brave, believe,” was the general tone.

And Investec South Africa captain Marsha Marescia, the veteran (at 27) of 205 Test matches and a member of the World All Stars team picked after Beijing, was unbridled in her praise: “Giles’s new way allows more players to become game-breakers; he’s not afraid to try new things with the team.”

Marescia mentioned that she was thinking of calling it a day after the World Cup and Commonwealth Games (in New Delhi, India next month), thinking of cementing relationships post-hockey, and starting a family.

Methinks the schedule has been delayed somewhat, and post-London Olympic Games in 2012 might be the new cut-off date.

And the quality of play at IPT was different — a revelation, in fact.

The fresh talent was there, a renewed hunger in the provincial teams was there; in fact a sheer delight in just playing good hockey.

While watching women’s IPT hockey over the past five years, this writer has frequently mumbled under his breath, “Why don’t these girls get stuck in, moer each other like the men do; they need more gees.”

By and large, this year was completely different — there was no more of that polite, ladylike hockey that went out with the rinderpest.

This was “real” hockey; there was fierce physical contact, hard hitting, good skill, evenly contested matches that went down to the wire.

And you can see the difference right now in Argentina: the Chinese and everyone else have been forced to sit up and take notice.

Bonnet’s bonny lasses mustn’t let me down tonight. A ninth-place finish would be just about perfect.

They must just follow Peaches and Herb and “shake their groove thing”.

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