Following their Commonwealth Games success SA’s hockey men and women are on the rise

2010-10-16 00:00

THE South African men’s and women’s hockey teams come away from the Commonwealth Games knowing their build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games is on track.

The world No. 12 SA men finished fifth in New Delhi. Significantly, they beat world No. 10 Canada 4-1 in Pool B and world No. 8 Pakistan 3-2 in the fifth/sixth playoff.

Pakistan only just lost to world No. 1 Australia in Pool A.

SA lost 2-1 to world No. 4 England in a must-win Pool B match that would have propelled them into the medal playoffs.

However, possibly the key loss was to world No. 7 New Zealand, who scored two soft goals in their 4-2 win. Controlling the midfield, SA comfortably had the majority of play, but several gilt-edged chances went astray.

It would have taken much of the pressure off their victory-or-bust match against England that wrapped up the preliminary round.

What the South Africans did so well was in their midfield performance, which was not matched by any of the four teams ranked above them. Apart from the two vital lapse­s against New Zealand, there was a crucial mistake that cost SA the match against England, as well as the odd blip or two in the messy defeat of last-placed Pool B side Trinidad and Tobago, but otherwise the green and gold were solid in defence.

Up front, more focus could be placed on consciously looking to earn penalty corners instead of trying the near-impossible shot or pass. Teams such as silver medallists India and eventual winners Australia were adept in this department.

Overall, though, the SA men’s team is getting closer and closer to beating the world’s top sides and are certainly better than their world ranking suggests. With about 18 months to London 2012 there is much to work with, knowing that this SA side under head coach Gregg Clark is nowhere near the finished product but a work in progress with much potential in the crucial time left before the hockey world heads to the UK.

Many players have taken on board the need to further their hockey progress by playing for clubs in the high-class European leagues, which to an extent negates what, in international terms, is the negligible time afforded them to get together as a squad.

Lack of funding — surely the least of all the world’s top 12 teams, never mind the top 20 — remains a major problem in getting this side together for more camps and international competition.

After a protracted contractual dispute left the South African women’s side in limbo until about four months ago, the arrival of new head coach Giles Bonnet has transformed the team into genuine medal contenders, just as the SA men now are.

The return of the talismanic Pietie Coetzee has also lifted this side, and her 200th international goal in her 200th Test match is indicative of her stature in the game.

And the great thing about the striker/set-piece specialist is her ability to look at her performances without emotion, pinpointing what she still needs to work on to get the best out of her talent.

Indeed, this is a trademark of all the players in the current SA men’s and women’s set-up — the heartfelt desire to get better and better — and Clark and Bonnet are the type of leaders who will support them every step of the way.

Let’s hope Sascoc take cognisance of the rising fortunes of SA’s national hockey teams and give them every bit of support they deserve.

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